Less than five years ago, a teenage Nicholas Limpert smirked and laughed during his sentencing for the first-degree murder of a mentally disabled Spokane man.
On Monday, Limpert, now 20, was released by the state’s Juvenile Rehabilitation Administration, angering the family of his victim, Kenneth D. Brown.
“We are dead set against this,” said Lynn Murray, Brown’s brother-in-law. “It was just a senseless crime. I think it’s impossible for them to be rehabilitated.”
In a controversial case, Limpert and Brandon Molony, both 15, pleaded guilty in 2001 to the first-degree murder of Brown, a 57-year-old janitor.
Limpert and Molony robbed Brown on the night of Nov. 12, 2000, and then Molony repeatedly stabbed him in an alley behind a North Spokane gas station.
Superior Court Judge Neal Rielly, who presided over Molony’s case, and Judge Greg Sypolt, who presided over Limpert’s, said at the time they believed the boys had a better chance to be rehabilitated in a juvenile facility. If they had been tried and convicted as adults, the boys would have faced 20 years in prison.
Brown worked in maintenance at Fairchild Air Force Base and was a fixture at Spokane Chiefs hockey games. He collected Chiefs’ clothing and carefully saved each ticket stub.
After his death, the team had a moment of silence for Brown and shone a spotlight on the upper level seat he used to occupy.
“Everyone who was around Ken liked him,” said Murray, a former deputy sheriff in Oregon.
“He wouldn’t harm a fly. He was very easygoing.”
State officials said they were forced to release Limpert on Monday evening in Spokane County. Limpert remains under intensive parole, which requires a curfew and regular check-ins with a parole officer.
“If not, we will act very accordingly,” said Marty Butkovich, regional administrator for the rehabilitation agency.
“Public safety is paramount.
“We’re hoping that what they did in the institution, that there was growth and improvement,” Butkovich said.
“It was a very serious crime, no doubt.”
Juvenile officials planned to hold Limpert until he turned 21, but they could no longer detain him because they had to give Limpert credit for time served before his sentencing.
Rielly reviewed the case to ensure the state officials were acting appropriately in releasing Limpert, according to a spokeswoman for the Department of Social and Health Services.
Rielly was out of town and could not be reached for comment Tuesday.
Sypolt was in court all day and unavailable for comment.
Limpert will live in a secure building, and juvenile officials will assist him in finding employment or education, Butkovich said.
The intensive parole period ends in September, when Limpert turns 21.
“I hope he does come out and learn something from this,” Murray said.
“But I just got my doubts.”
Molony remains at Green Hill School, a maximum-security facility in Chehalis, Wash.