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Mission accomplished – for now

Eric S. Nelson’s Wisconsin Department of Corrections mugshot

We’re pleased to report that Eric Nelson will spend at least seven more months behind bars.

Wisconsin Parole Commissioner Danielle LaCost made this decision after a parole hearing earlier this week.

We thank everyone who signed our petition and shared it with family, friends and neighbors. The more than 3,100 signatures that we collected – plus the support we received from elected officials – no doubt made an impact on the commissioner’s decision.

But the fight’s not over. Eric Nelson will likely go before the commission again in just a matter of months, and it’s important for us to continue to send the message that he does not belong out of prison.

If you haven’t already, please sign our petition, and keep sharing it with others who value safety in our community.

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2,600 signatures… and counting!

As of tonight, the petition drive to deny parole for Eric Nelson has reached 2,600 signatures.

That, as Kenosha County Executive Jim Kreuser pointed out in a news release last week, is well above the goal of 1,000 signatures by May 10 that Kreuser set in a news conference earlier this month.

Here is the text of the county executive’s news release from last week:

Petition drive to oppose parole for murderer Eric Nelson
exceeds 2,300 signatures in first 10 days

KENOSHA – A petition drive urging the Wisconsin Parole Commission to deny release of a convicted murderer is off to a strong start, already greatly surpassing a signature goal that Kenosha County Executive Jim Kreuser announced last week.

As of today, nearly 2,400 people had signed the online petition to keep Eric S. Nelson behind bars.

On April 1, Kreuser set a goal of collecting 1,000 signatures by May 10. In fact, that goal was met the following day, on April 2.

Kreuser and Kenosha County District Attorney Michael Graveley have joined the family of Nelson murder victim Joseph Vite in strongly opposing the release of his killer, who was recently transferred to a minimum-security, pre-release facility near Green Bay.

Citing this issue as a public safety concern, Kreuser last week sent a letter to more than 250 elected officials in Kenosha, Brown and Outagamie counties, urging them to sign the petition in opposition of parole for Nelson.

“I feel strongly about this issue, as do District Attorney Graveley and the Vite family,” Kreuser said. “And I think it’s very important that we send a clear message to the Parole Commission, that Eric Nelson is a dangerous individual who doesn’t belong out of prison.

“I am grateful to everyone who has taken the time to study the issue and sign the petition, and I hope more join this fight in the coming weeks.”

Kreuser said his goal is now for 4,500 people to sign the petition by May 10. This deadline is timed around a parole hearing that Nelson is expected to have later next month.

The petition, which was established by the Vite family, is available for the public to sign online, at http://bit.ly/NelsonParolePetition. A weblog containing more information about Joseph Vite’s murder may be viewed at https://keepamurdererbehindbars.home.blog/.

Ed Vite, a brother of the late Joseph Vite’s, said the family is encouraged by the support that the petition is receiving.

“This has been a hard process for all of us, since the day our brother was murdered,” Vite said. “But it’s gratifying for us to know that many other people share our belief that Eric Nelson belongs behind bars.”

Nelson used a .308-caliber hunting rifle to shoot Joseph Vite in the head during an attack in Vite’s Bristol home on Jan. 16, 1985. Nelson committed the crime alongside friend Daniel Dower, Vite’s foster child, who had planned the murder for months. Both boys were 16 years old at the time.

After fleeing the scene in Vite’s car with a cache of loaded rifles, they were arrested in Bridgeton, Mo., then returned to Kenosha County where they were tried as adults. Both were convicted of first-degree intentional homicide and were sentenced to life in prison, but were eligible for parole in 1999 under state law in effect at the time.

Graveley, speaking at a news conference last week, referred to Nelson as an individual who reveals his character as profoundly dangerous to the community.

“This is an individual we need to be protected from now as we did in 1985,” the district attorney said. “I don’t think there’s any credible way to say a heinous act such as this is one that we can say, even with the passage of time, would not pose an unreasonable risk to the public. I am opposed to the release of Eric Nelson.”

Kenosha County Executive Jim Kreuser’s April 11 news release on the Eric Nelson parole petition drive.

A public official speaks out

The impending release of Eric Nelson has caught the attention of Kenosha community members, including County Executive Jim Kreuser.

Kreuser made known his opposition to Nelson’s release and his fears about its effects on public safety in a letter sent to a mass list of elected officials in Kenosha, Outagamie and Brown counties. (The Sanger B. Powers Correctional Center, the minimum-security facility to which Nelson was transferred in March 2019, is located in Outagamie County, just across the border from Brown County.)

Kreuser’s letter reads:

Dear Elected Official,

I am writing to make you aware that the Wisconsin Parole Board may in fact vote next month to release convicted murderer Eric S. Nelson, whom I and the victim’s family believe is a danger to our communities, our state, and our nation.

This matter is of particular concern to me, as history has played itself in such a way that the board just last year, in July, released a murderer who was convicted of kicking down a front door, going upstairs, kicking in a bathroom door, and stabbing someone multiple times in the bathtub, in 1974, in Kenosha. This man is now allowed to be free in Texas, under a re-entry program of some type. I am concerned for the family of that victim, as I am for the victim’s family and the public if Eric Nelson is released.

I would hope that you would join me in urging the Parole Board not to release Nelson, who has shown no remorse and only thinks he was in the wrong place at the wrong time when he took a .308 hunting rifle and shot well-respected community member Joseph Vite in the head, at pointblank range, in Mr. Vite’s home in Bristol in January 1985.

The Vite family has established an online petition that I would strongly encourage you to sign, to help ensure that parole is not granted. The petition may be signed online at http://bit.ly/NelsonParolePetition. More information about Eric Nelson and the murder of Joseph Vite is also available online at https://keepamurdererbehindbars.home.blog/.

Enclosed are some press clippings of Eric Nelson from the period of his trial. I would hope that you would read those and agree with me that Eric Nelson should not be released from prison, and that you would sign the petition opposing his release.

If you have any further questions or comments, please feel free to contact me directly at 262-653-2600.

Sincerely,
Jim Kreuser
Kenosha County Executive 

Kenosha County Executive Jim Kreuser’s letter to elected officials in Kenosha, Brown and Outagamie counties.

‘A victim’s voice’

In August 2006, “Dateline NBC” profiled a dramatic meeting between Eric Nelson and Terry Vite-Anderson, the sister of murder victim Joseph Vite.

Vite-Anderson had decided to meet with Nelson in prison as part of the Restorative Justice program at Marquette University Law School, which aims to help support victims and communities to heal from the effects of crime.

The Dateline report on the tense meeting included Nelson’s account of pulling the trigger on the fatal shot, contradicting his testimony during his trial 21 years earlier.

Eric Nelson, during his 2006 appearance on “Dateline NBC.”

A transcript of the report reads, in part:

“Armed with rifles they’d found in Joe Vite’s gun cabinet, they took positions. Then a car pulled in…

“Nelson: ‘I heard keys. I heard the door open…’

“Danny (Dower) fired off three quick shots – one hit his father in the elbow, who fell to his knees, and then Eric moved in.

“Nelson: ‘I didn’t aim or anything. I just shot.’

“The bullet tore through Joe Vite’s forehead – so much so there would have to be a closed casket.

“Danny and Eric took off, on the run, as the blinding snowstorm filled in their tracks.”

“Five days later they were captured,” the report continues. “Eric lied his way through his trial.”

The Dateline report notes that in a letter that Nelson wrote to the trial judge in 1993, eight years after the trial, he admitted, “I lied blatantly in your courtroom.”

In the prison meeting between Vite-Anderson and Nelson, the Dateline report states, the following exchange occurred:

Vite-Anderson: “How was justice done?”

Nelson: “I think I got what I deserved.”

Vite-Anderson: “If justice was done and you got what you deserved – well – why would you ever go to a parole hearing?”

Nelson: “Um – oh, you’re right. You’re right. I guess that doesn’t make sense in a way.”

Vite-Anderson: “And how old are you, Eric?”

Nelson: “I’m 37.”

Vite-Anderson: “Are you ready to die in five years? Joe was 42.”

Read the full Dateline NBC transcript here.

The facts at trial

On May 10, 1985, a jury in Kenosha County found Eric S. Nelson guilty of first-degree intentional homicide in a crime that the presiding judge, Bruce Schroeder, described as “an assassination.”

May 12, 1985, Kenosha News coverage of the guilty verdict against Eric Nelson.

Nelson, it was found, fired the fatal shot into the head of Joseph Vite with a large-caliber, .308 rifle, after Vite’s foster child, Daniel Dower, had already shot Vite in the elbow.

Dower, who was also convicted and continues to serve his life sentence in prison, had conspired with Nelson to kill his foster father, with Nelson having been overheard telling Dower to make sure a hatchet was in the house when the murder would occur.

After the shooting, Nelson and Dower took off in Vite’s stolen car and made it to Missouri before they were arrested. In the car after the arrest, investigators found four rifles, a shotgun and a pellet gun. Three of the rifles were loaded.

After the jury’s verdict, Kenosha County Circuit Judge Bruce E. Schroeder imposed the mandatory life sentence, plus five additional years for the use of a firearm in the murder. But under the Wisconsin law of the day, Nelson was eligible for parole consideration just 14 years later, in 1999. While his attempts at release have been unsuccessful, he is now closer than ever to freedom, having been moved to a minimum-security, pre-release facility in March 2019.

Who was Joseph Vite?

The eldest of six siblings in a large Italian-American family in Kenosha, Wis., Joseph Vite was a beloved husband, son, brother, uncle and cousin. He was also a well-respected businessman in the community, working as an American Family Insurance agent in Kenosha.

While Joe and his wife, Mary, had no biological children, they were foster parents to many, taking numerous children into their home over the years preceding his death.

It was one of those foster children, Daniel Dower, who would ultimately orchestrate Joseph Vite’s untimely death.

Dower, who had lived in the Vite home for several years, conspired with high school friend Eric S. Nelson to murder Joseph Vite, with Vite’s own rifles, in Vite’s own home, on the evening of Jan. 16, 1985.

Vite was just 41 years old when he was killed. He left behind a grieving, devastated family that continues to fight today to keep Eric Nelson in prison.