Matthew Niedere struggled to wipe his eyes with a tissue as he sat shackled before the packed courtroom last Wednesday, and then apologized for his role in the murder of his parents last fall at their auto glass shop on Vermillion Street.
"I hurt everyone I know," Niedere, 18, said in a statement just before Judge Timothy McManus sentenced him to life in prison with the possibility for parole after 30 years. "I want to apologize to my family, because I hurt them the most."
McManus also sentenced Niedere's high school friend Clayton Keister, 17, Blaine, to life in prison with the possibility for parole in 30 years, two weeks after the teens pleaded guilty to two counts of first-degree murder while attempting aggravated robbery in the Oct. 8 shooting deaths of Peter and Patricia Niedere.
Dakota County Attorney James Backstrom said the tone of Niedere and Keister's separate statements at the March 15 sentencing hearing was much different from their Feb. 27 testimonies where they admitted their roles in the shootings, but blamed each other as the driving force behind the plot to murder the couple.
"This was the first time throughout this whole ordeal where they expressed some remorse for what they did," Backstrom said at a press conference after the sentencing hearing. "I think it's finally sinking in for them as to what they did."
Owning up to actions
Keister and Niedere took turns last Wednesday addressing the courtroom, and specifically made apologies to their families and friends.
"I cannot give any excuse why this happened, and I do not know why I didn't do more to avoid being part of this," Keister said. "I take full responsibility for my actions and can blame nobody but myself. I'm extremely sorry to the Niederes for the loved ones I took from them."
Keister then began to cry as he apologized to his family and the Hastings community.
The teens' statements followed a series of emotional statements made by members of the Niedere family that expressed anger, sadness, forgiveness and hope for the future.
"We will never again have family gatherings or be able to take family pictures again with everyone there," said Cathy Kinneman, one of Patricia Niedere's sisters. "There will always be three people missing."
Angie Niedere spoke to Matthew Niedere, her brother in-law, about her admiration for Peter and Patricia Niedere, and the affect that the loss will have on her husband and son.
"Matt, you were a great uncle to Austin and brother to Dan and brother-in-law to me. But, in the blink of an eye, you tore our family apart," Angie Niedere said. "I hope you think about your family and are truly sorry for what you've done."
In his apology, Niedere admitted he lied during his Feb. 27 testimony where he blamed Keister for pushing him to murder his parents for an inheritance that he planned to share with Keister and another teen who was allegedly involved in the planning and who will stand trial for conspiracy charges later this spring.
"I came up with the idea. I threw out ideas, and I put my best friends through a situation that no one should ever go through," Niedere said. "To everyone I know, I want to apologize. I was selfish with my actions. I'm sorry."
Keister did not back away from his earlier statements that he felt forced into the plot, but expressed his remorse.
"Regardless of what some people were saying, I was not the source of this terrible plot," Keister said. "I was terrified, suicidal and fearful for my own family. But I played just as crucial a role by doing what I did."
Backstrom maintained that Keister was a "willing participant in this evil plot to kill Patricia and Peter Niedere."
"I don't believe for a second, however, that Matthew Niedere threatened to kill Clayton Keister and his family if he backed out of this crime, as Mr. Keister told this court under oath two weeks ago," Backstrom said. "In my assessment, that is a complete and utter fabrication, concocted in the mind of a young man in hopes of somehow being able to explain to his family the horrendous thing he has done."
Looking for change
Despite their shock, anger and sadness for the murder of their loved ones, several members of the Niedere family expressed hope that the teens could make something of their lives in prison.
"Matt, I want you to think about what could have prevented this from happening, please," Kinneman, Niedere's aunt said. "There is still a way for you to make a difference in this world while you're in prison. I want you to think about what you can do to help other teenagers that are out there facing these same things, having these dark thoughts; make a difference in your life."
Judge McManus addressed the teens about their future after he issued their sentences.
"What happens 30 years from now is up to you," McManus told the teens.
Niedere and Keister will most likely be placed at the state prison in St. Cloud while they are processed into the prison system, but Backstrom said they will most likely be separated and placed in different facilities.
The teens may also be called as witnesses in the upcoming jury trial for Jamie Patton, 18, East Bethel, who stands charged with two counts of conspiracy to commit first-degree murder for his alleged involvement in the planning of the Oct. 8 murders.
Earlier in the day Patton pleaded not guilty on the conspiracy charges in his planning to help carry out the murders, and said he backed out in an earlier attempt on Oct. 7.