It’s not typical for us, as elected officials, to make public recommendations for or against the release of a prison inmate.
But given the crime he committed, premediated and without a real motive, we do not believe Eric S. Nelson is a typical prison inmate.
Last month, we joined the family of the late Joseph Vite in calling for the Wisconsin Parole Commission to deny Nelson’s release. Now, as the commission’s May 14 hearing date is nearing, we would like to reiterate our request that the community join us in signing a petition opposing parole for Nelson.
Nelson is the man who fired the shot to the head that killed Vite, after lying in wait to attack in Vite’s Bristol home, on Jan. 16, 1985. Nelson was acting alongside Daniel Dower, Vite’s foster son, who spent months planning the murder.
On the evening of Vite’s murder, Nelson was in violation of a court-ordered curfew, set just two days before the murder, for a separate case in which he was charged with the armed burglary of another victim’s private residence.
It’s important to note that Nelson had apparently never met Joseph Vite before committing his murder. And that’s why we believe it is imperative that he remain in prison.
Most people who commit murder have an ax to grind with the victim, or they’re in it for significant personal gain, monetary or otherwise. Nelson does not fit that profile.
Nelson was willing to adopt someone else’s feud, just for a few guns and a small amount of money. He was willing to end someone’s life for little more than a thrill and a road trip in a stolen car.
We believe in rehabilitation of those convicted of crimes. Kenosha County demonstrates that principle through our commitment to programs such as the criminal diversion treatment courts, which place an emphasis on turning over a new leaf and starting a new life, rather than spending a life behind bars.
Nelson’s actions years ago give us pause. His brutal slaying of Joseph Vite devastated a family, and demonstrated a character that cannot be trusted to be free in our community.
If Nelson and Dower had committed this crime a few years later, Wisconsin’s Truth in Sentencing Law may likely have precluded their release from prison. But under the law in place when they were convicted in 1985, they are eligible to apply for parole. Nelson has made numerous attempts at release, but only recently came as close as he is today, in a minimum-security, pre-release facility near Green Bay.
The Vite family, which has fought for years to keep Nelson in prison, are not taking this lying down.
Last month, they launched an online petition drive that the public can sign at http://bit.ly/NelsonParolePetition. There’s also a blog with more information about the case at https://keepamurdererbehindbars.home.blog.
We strongly encourage you to read up on the case, and sign the petition in advance of the Parole Commission’s hearing on May 14. This is about keeping our community safe.
Jim Kreuser is Kenosha County executive. Michael Graveley is Kenosha County district attorney.