FREMONT, Neb. — Joshua Keadle expected to get 50 years in prison Tuesday when he was sentenced for the 2008 rape of a 15-year-old girl.
Keadle told authorities he expected the maximum because everyone assumes he's also responsible for the 2010 disappearance of Peru State College student Tyler Thomas of Omaha.
So District Judge Geoffrey Hall must have surprised Keadle when he said rumor, suspicion, passion and public opinion would not factor in the sentence.
Hall gave Keadle 15 to 20 years in prison for first-degree sexual assault of a minor. He also gave 308 days of credit for the time Keadle has spent in jail awaiting trial.
“In this great nation, justice is blind,” the judge said.
Keadle, 30, could be eligible for parole in a little over 6½ years if he maintains good behavior in prison. He declined to comment after the hearing at Dodge County District Court in Fremont.
The sentence shocked and angered five relatives of Thomas who sat in court Tuesday. Several embraced and sobbed in a hallway afterward.
“He needs to be locked away for more than he got,” said Ruth Coleman of Omaha, Thomas' aunt. “He's a predator.”
Keadle is the last person known to have seen Thomas on Dec. 3, 2010, after she left an off-campus party and walked in the direction of her Peru State residence hall.
He told investigators he picked Thomas up and drove her to a secluded boat ramp on the Missouri River. He said they had sexual contact and he left her, alive, when she threatened to accuse him of rape.
Authorities arrested Keadle five days later, but he has never been charged in the Thomas case.
News reports about him, however, prompted the Fremont girl to come forward last year.
In 2008, Keadle was a student at Midland University in Fremont. The victim testified she went to a campus apartment to see another male student who was rooming with Keadle over Christmas break.
She said Keadle propositioned her five times and she turned him down every time.
She had consensual sex with the other student and then fell asleep in a bedroom. Keadle later sneaked into the bedroom and raped her while she was unconscious.
The other student also testified he saw Keadle on top of the girl in the bedroom.
Although Keadle did not take the stand, jurors watched a video recording in which he told a police detective that impotence prevented him from having sex with the girl. He also told the detective he thought the girl was older than 15.
Keadle told the judge Tuesday he accepted responsibility for his actions, even though he still maintains he didn't sexually penetrate the victim.
“Sorry doesn't even begin to express how I feel,” he said. “I took advantage of (the victim) and I'm sorry for that.”
The judge asked Keadle if he has learned anything from what took place.
“I shouldn't have went in the bedroom, regardless of whether she was 15 or 50,” he said. “That was wrong.”
Assistant Attorney General Sandra Allen, the lead prosecutor in the case, read part of a letter written by the victim, who is now 18 and living in another city.
“I'm glad I came forward and I had the courage to speak out at trial,” she said, “because Josh Keadle deserves to go to prison.”
One reason she didn't come forward right away: For a time, she thought she had deserved the assault because she put herself in such a perilous situation.
Both the victim and the prosecution argued for the maximum sentence.
The presentence investigation showed Keadle had a history of disrespecting and using women for his personal gain.
But Keadle also had two factors in his favor. First, he had no prior felony convictions and no history of violence, except for a domestic assault stemming from a fight with his father.
In addition, the victim said Keadle did not strike or otherwise assault her during the rape. Had he beaten the girl, he would have likely received more time.
The judge said he was particularly bothered by Keadle's habit of enrolling at small Nebraska colleges, telling other students he was younger than his real age.
“I question your motive,” the judge said. “Was it a failure to grow up ... or was it your attempt to take advantage of young, naïve women?”
In addition to Midland and Peru State, Keadle also attended Wayne State College in Nebraska.
After the hearing, Thomas' relatives said they appreciated the victim's courage.
They couldn't say the same for Keadle's apology, which they called insincere.
As for the ongoing investigation into the Tyler Thomas disappearance, they said law enforcement authorities stay in regular contact with Thomas' parents.
Despite their disappointment with Keadle's sentence, not even the maximum sentence could have brought a sense of peace, Coleman said.
“It will be closure when we find her,” she said. “We have to find her.”
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