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Suspect in 1991 Cole County killing appears in court

March 2, 2020 at 8:40 p.m. | Updated March 2, 2020 at 8:48 p.m.
William Christopher Niemet

A Fulton man charged last week with fatally shooting his 14-year-old classmate in 1991 in Cole County appeared in court Monday and will return next week to see if he is granted bond.

William Christopher Niemet, 43, appeared via video from the Cole County Jail during a hearing before Cole County Associate Circuit Court Judge Cotton Walker.

Niemet's attorney, Curtis Hanrahan, waived the formal reading of the charge of first-degree murder his client faces. Hanrahan said Niemet is pleading not guilty to the charge.

Hanrahan asked Walker during Monday's hearing to consider giving his client a bond of $100,000, which could be posted with cash, property or as a surety bond.

A surety bond is an agreement by a criminal defendant to appear for trial or pay a sum of money set by the court. The bail bond is cosigned by a bail bondsman, who charges the defendant a fee in return for guaranteeing the payment.

"My client has been held on a no-bond warrant for 10 days," Hanrahan told Walker. "He operates several businesses employing approximately 700 people, located in Missouri, Iowa and Illinois."

Hanrahan said they would also be willing to surrender Niemet's passport and that his client could be kept on house arrest with an ankle monitor and agree not to leave the state.

"As Mr. (Cole County Prosecutor Locke) Thompson said when he announced Mr. Niemet's arrest, my client is innocent until proven guilty," Hanrahan said.

Cole County Assistant Prosecutor Amanda Landrum told Walker victims in connection with the case had asked to be present for Niemet's hearing. They were not in court Monday, so Landrum asked Walker to delay any action on a bond until those people could be in court.

"I have looked at the risk assessment, and while it shows that the rating would be low for Mr. Niemet, due to the nature of the charge and the fact victims have indicated their wanting to be in the court, I'm inclined to notify the victims that a release hearing will be held next Monday," Walker told Landrum. "Please tell the vicitms that they need to be here and this will be the only time we'll be doing this in this court."

Walker set the hearing for 1 p.m. Monday, March 9.

Authorities believe Niemet killed Greg Jones, who was 14 at the time when his body was found in June 1991 near a branch of the Moreau River near Russellville. That ended a search that began after his parents called authorities when their son was two hours late for supper on April 24, 1991.

An autopsy found Jones was shot twice in the head.

Niemet, who was 14 at the time, and Jones were classmates, Thompson said. He was one of several people questioned in the shooting at the time.

Because he was a juvenile at the time, Niemet had to go through juvenile court processes last week before authorities could certify him to be tried as an adult.

Authorities said the investigation is ongoing and urged anyone with information to contact authorities.

Thompson attributed the arrest in part to advancements in technology since 1991. Cole County Sheriff John Wheeler said his office routinely looks at cold cases and had been conducting an ongoing investigation in this case for seven months.

The Cole County Sheriff's Department probable cause statement filed when Niemet was charged last week does not indicate a motive and does not indicate that the gun used in the killing was recovered. It does note ammunition was recovered at Niemet's residence that matched the type of rounds recovered in Jones' skull.

The probable cause statement also shows deputies interviewed several witnesses, "claiming Niemet claimed responsibility for the murder of Greg Jones with three witnesses reporting Niemet told them about the murder."

Niemet was arrested in 1991 not long after Jones' body was found, the Associated Press reported. He was brought into juvenile court, but those documents do not say what Niemet was charged with. The case was eventually dropped, and Niemet filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the county and then-Sheriff John Hemeyer in 1997.

The lawsuit claimed the sheriff used "false information" to imprison Niemet in order to get a confession to the murder. The court dismissed the case, saying Niemet had not shown any proof Hemeyer fabricated evidence against him.

In 2005, the Fulton Sun reported Niemet was a possible suspect in the death of a Fulton woman. Shawnda Reed had been shot to death in her home, and authorities charged Niemet - Reed's landlord - with insurance fraud, as they claimed he had taken out a $150,000 insurance policy on Reed's life. They also charged him with forgery, claiming Niemet had used false documents to obtain financing to construct Reed's home.

Prosecutors dropped the charges in 2006, citing a lack of evidence. The investigation into Reed's death is still open.


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