District attorney, county executive join drive to prevent parole for murderer

From left: Ed Vite, County Executive Jim Kreuser and District Attorney Micahel Gravely at Monday’s press conference.

Kenosha County District Attorney Michael Gravely and County Executive Jim Kreuser are lending their help to an effort by a local family to deny parole to a man convicted of a 1985 murder in Bristol.

Eric Nelson was convicted of killing Joseph Vite at Vite’s Bristol home. Daniel Dower, a foster child of Vite’s, also was convicted of the murder.

Nelson is set to be considered for release on parole in May. While he was sentenced to a life sentence at his 1985 trial, laws at the time meant Nelson was eligible for release after 14 years. Life sentencing has since been changed to a “life means life” standard, in part due to reaction to this case.

Joseph Vite arrived at his Bristol home on 82nd Street on the evening of Jan. 16 in the midst of a snow storm. Vite was ambushed by Dower and Nelson, who were armed with Vite’s hunting rifles. Dower shot first, hitting Vite in the elbow. Nelson fired the fatal shot to Vite’s head with a .308 rifle. Nelson and Dower were teenagers and Central High School students at the time of the murder.

Dower and Nelson fled with the guns, stolen money and Vite’s car. They were caught in Missouri with the loaded guns in the vehicle.

Kreuser, Gravely and members of the Vite family held a press conference Monday in the county administration building in Kenosha to outline their efforts to halt granting Nelson parole.

Ed Vite, the Joseph Vite’s brother, said he received a call in February from a state Department of Corrections representative asking for the family’s feelings about Nelson being paroled. The family has kept up on Nelson’s parole opportunities, regularly voicing their objections, but was still surprised by the latest calls telling them Nelson had been moved to a minimum security facility in the Green Bay area and was being considered for parole perhaps as early as in May.

“I was literally stunned,” Ed Vite said. “I never expected to get a telephone call like this … We still don’t understand how this has gotten to this point.”

Ed Vite said Joseph’s murder has had a deep impact on his family.

“This crime has affected my family profoundly since the night it happened 35 years ago,” Ed Vite said. “And our family has never been the same.”

Toward the end of the press conference Brenda Vite, Ed Vite’s wife, got up from the audience and addressed the impact, saying the murder of their son was something Joseph Vite’s parents never got over.

“It’s not like he got run over by a car,” Brenda Vite said. “It was a closed casket because they couldn’t even show him. When his mother died, I thought she’ll finally have peace because she’s with Joe, because she never had a day’s peace.”

Gravely said he and Kreuser were lending their support to the Vites in persuading  the parole board not to grant Nelson parole. Gravely characterized Nelson as a rare case of a person willing to commit murder of someone he did not know for a “small profit.”

“This is still an individual who reveals his character as profoundly dangerous to the community,” Gravely said. “This is an individual we need to be protected from now as we did in 1985. 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.”

Added Kreuser: “My priority as county executive is to keep the residents of Kenosha County as safe and secure as possible. The release of Eric Nelson will only serve to diminish that safety and security.”

Kreuser said the Vite family, supported by the county executive and DA, are conducting a petition drive to present to the parole board. The hope is to collect 1,000 signatures by May. An electronic version of the petition is here.

The family’s website with information about the case is available here.

Kreuser said he plans to send a letter to local elected officials as well as those in Brown and Outagamie counties — where Nelson is currently being held — to rally more support for denying Nelson’s parole.

“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,” Kreuser said in a copy of the letter shared with the news media.

Dower continues to serve his life sentence.

Here is video of the press conference:

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