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Family of 1985 murder victim wants killer to stay behind bars

Posted at 6:38 PM, Apr 01, 2019

A man convicted in a Kenosha County murder three decades ago could be free before this summer, but the victim's family and local officials are speaking out before his parole hearing because they feel the public's safety could be in jeopardy.

Joseph Vite was just 42-years-old and fostering 12 children with his wife at their home in the Village of Bristol.

In January 1985, one of those foster kids, 16-year-old Daniel Dower, and his friend, Eric Nelson, decided they were going to kill Joe, inspired by the fantasy role-playing game Dungeons and Dragons.

Dower shot Joe in the elbow and then Nelson murdered him with a shot to the forehead.

Both were sentenced to life in prison, but not without the opportunity for parole.

The tragedy still haunts Vite's family today, including Joe's sister-in-law Brenda.

"This is all that they thought about was their son that was murdered," Brenda said.

She gets emotional thinking about Joe's death.

"It's not like he got ran over by a car. It was a closed casket because they couldn't even show him," Brenda said.

Her husband, Joe's brother Ed, said their family has never been the same.

"It's just always on your mind. It just changes your life completely," he said.

This is especially the case because the chance at parole constantly forces Vite's family to relive his death over and over again.

"It's almost every six months now," Ed said.

The problem is Nelson and Dower were sentenced at a time before the legal definition of "sentenced to life" actually meant "life," so the family and local officials rally support to keep them locked up, most recently posting a petition before Nelson is eligible again.

"If the same crime was committed today, this wouldn't be happening all the time," County Executive Jim Kreuser said. "Eric Nelson should not be released here in Kenosha County, Outagamie County or Brown County, or anywhere in Wisconsin or anywhere at all."

He and others worry for the public's safety after Nelson was suddenly moved to a minimum security prison near Green Bay last month, which makes Kreuser feel this is heading in the same direction as a 1970s Kenosha murder case did last summer.

"I want to keep the horse in the barn on this case," he said.

They feel Nelson needs to stay in prison and go back to max, in order to protect the public.

"The release of Eric Nelson now in his early 50s is certainly still an individual who would be a threat in this community," District Attorney Michael Graveley said.

Now they hope Joe's family can try to find peace.

"I felt when his mom died, I thought she's finally at peace, she's with Joe, because she never had a day's peace," Brenda said.

Nelson's hearing before the parole board is expected to take place in late May.