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Joshua Keadle

Nemaha County sheriff's deputies escort Joshua Keadle to his first appearance in Nemaha County Court in Auburn in late 2017.

Joshua Keadle's attorneys are asking a judge to keep evidence out of his upcoming murder trial in the killing of Tyler "Ty" Thomas because when investigators sought search warrants they didn't disclose that someone else — a sex trafficker — claimed he killed her.

The Peru State student disappeared Dec. 3, 2010.

Thomas's body never was found, despite efforts that started within hours of her going missing.

Keadle, 37, long has been suspected of being the last person to see her alive.

He initially told investigators that he last saw Thomas walking toward her dormitory, drunk, a block away as he drove to the dorm with friends.

But, when pressed later about what cellphone records would show about his movements, Keadle admitted to leaving his dorm and driving Thomas to the Missouri River, investigators say. Since then, Keadle has maintained that he left Thomas there — alive — after they argued over him refusing to drive her to Omaha.

Prosecutors waited seven years to charge him, in part because they lacked physical evidence, a crime scene or a body.

At a preliminary hearing a year ago, his lawyer, Jeff Pickens of the Nebraska Commission on Public Advocacy, argued that without a body or cause of death there wasn’t even circumstantial evidence to show she was murdered — let alone evidence of premeditation, an element of first-degree murder.

She just as easily could have died accidentally, Pickens argued then.

But a Nemaha County judge later sent the case to district court, finding that the prosecution had presented enough evidence to support a conclusion that Thomas is dead and that a crime led to it.

In late February, as the case moved closer to an April trial date, Pickens and Matt McDonald, his co-counsel, filed motions seeking to suppress evidence in the case that was obtained through federal and state search warrants.

They are seeking to have Keadle's cellphone records tossed because the FBI agent who sought the warrant to get them alleged the federal crime of kidnapping provided the basis for it, though there was no evidence Keadle or Thomas had crossed state lines.

And they say the Nebraska Attorney General's office shouldn't be allowed to use anything taken from Keadle's Ford Explorer in searches in 2010 and 2016, in part because the scope of the warrants was overly broad.

But the defense attorneys' main objection to the later search was what the investigator didn't tell the judge before he gave permission to search it. McDonald said the affidavit of William Black, an investigator with the Attorney General's office, contained "material omissions, deliberate falsehoods or reckless disregard for the truth."

Specifically, Keadle's attorneys say, it left out the fact that another person had claimed to have killed Thomas and buried her body in the area near Peru where she disappeared.

The motions led to a hearing last week.

According to a transcript obtained by the Journal Star, Black testified that he didn't know about the information that suggests someone else may have killed Thomas until about six or seven months after he sought the search warrant, despite an email that confirmed another investigator in his office knew.

Black said he'd helped line up a cadaver dog for the search but only knew someone was claiming that a body had been buried there and it possibly was Thomas.

FBI Special Agent Michael Maseth said that in 2016, a woman who was the victim of sex trafficking led him and others to a grove of trees west of a levee a couple of hundred yards off Olive Street, where a man raped her.

Maseth said she told them that the man who pimped her out across state lines said his group had kidnapped Thomas and held her for nearly a year before killing her and burying her there.

"It seemed to me not to be credible," he said.

Maseth said he believed the man was just trying to scare the woman in order to keep her under his control.

On cross-examination, McDonald asked if Thomas could have been another sex trafficking victim, like the woman who had given him the information.

Maseth said "she could have been, yes."

Nemaha County District Judge Ricky A. Schreiner will rule later, after attorneys present their arguments in briefs.

It's unclear now if the trial will go forward April 8.

Reach the writer at 402-473-7237 or lpilger@journalstar.com.

On Twitter @LJSpilger.

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