BLAIR, Neb. — A Nebraska judge agreed Wednesday that the fact that the suspect was found lying on top of a badly wounded priest covered in blood stains last month inside the home where the priest lived next door to his small-town church suggests that Kierre Williams was responsible for the killing.
Washington County Judge Edward Matney ruled there was probable cause for the murder case against Williams, 43, to move forward. He will continue being held without bond until he is due back in court early next month to enter a plea to the murder and weapons charges he faces. His attorney has declined to discuss the case.
Prosecutors have said there doesn’t appear to be any connection between Williams and the Rev. Stephen Gutgsell, who was fatally stabbed on Dec. 10 inside the rectory for St. John the Baptist Catholic Church in tiny Fort Calhoun. The one-story home was still wrapped in crime scene tape Wednesday nearly a month after the attack.
The priest’s death came just four months after another seemingly random home invasion killing in the town of 1,100 that is eight miles north of Omaha and shook residents’ confidence in their safety.
Chief Deputy Washington County Attorney Erik Petersen recapped the key evidence against Williams Wednesday that he had mostly outlined in court documents last month. Sheriff’s Deputy Brady Tucker talked about what he saw after he rushed to the home minutes after the priest reported an intruder that Sunday morning, and a detective recounted what the initial investigation showed.
Tucker testified that he found Williams lying crossways on top of Gutgsell, whose face was covered with blood. Williams complied with commands to show his hands and get off the priest, and he was quickly taken into custody.
Though Williams didn’t have a weapon when he was arrested, investigators later found a broken knife with a serrated blade lying in the middle of a blood stain on the floor of Gutgsell’s bedroom.
When Williams was interviewed at the jail hours after the 65-year-old priest died at an Omaha hospital, he bore evidence of the attack. An autopsy confirmed that he died from multiple stab wounds.
“He was wearing ski pants, a coat, tennis shoes and kind of some winter gear,” Detective Greg Corns said. “There was blood on the exterior of the pants, the shoes and the shirt. There’s blood on the bottom of his shoes and some blood spatter on the top of the shoes as well.”
Prosecutors haven’t yet decided whether to pursue the death penalty in this case.
Williams has an extensive criminal history with several felony convictions in other states. But at the time of the killing, he was working in a meatpacking plant in Sioux City, Iowa. It is not clear what brought him to Fort Calhoun.
The Archdiocese of Omaha said the church Gutgsell served in Fort Calhoun will now have to share a priest with two other churches in the nearby small towns of Blair and Tekamah. Daily Mass will rotate between the three churches during the week.
Archdiocese spokesman Riley Johnson said it is still too soon to determine what will happen to the St. John the Baptist rectory once authorities complete their investigation there. The priest assigned to the three small churches is based in Blair.
Gutgsell’s brother thanked the Fort Calhoun congregation in a message in the church bulletin last weekend for joining with nearly 1,000 other mourners at the priest’s funeral last month. The Rev. Michael Gutgsell said he and his siblings will keep St. John the Baptist Church in their prayers.
Parishioners of the three small churches will decide in the months ahead how to honor Gutgsell’s memory, Johnson said.