Stolen war medals returned to victim's family

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Nikki Neis and her mother were crushed when her mother returned to her home April 4, 2012 and found it had been ransacked.

“I cannot begin to tell you or paint a vivid picture of what she had to endure,” Neis said at a news conference with Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman.” Not only did they clean out her belongings, heirlooms and collectibles, they ransacked files and pictures, not to mention they scattered my father’s and grandmother’s funeral programs and prayer cards all over. It transformed my mother from being trusting and outgoing to introverted and doubtful of everyone in her surroundings.”

Just as hurtful for Neis, the burglar stole her father’s World War II medals. She said she was the only girl in the family and they were close and losing the medals was painful because “my dad meant everything to me” and the medals represented a dramatic time in his life.

“Today we are here to return some important property to its rightful owner, Nikki Neis, whose father Roger, is an American hero,” Freeman said. “Nikki’s father, Roger Neis, fought in the Pacific Theater and survived the brutal Bataan Death March, the forced 80 mile march of Filipino and American Prisoners of War by the Japanese Army.”

Freeman presented Neis with a jewelry box containing several major war medals, including the Bronze Star with two oak leaf clusters.

Minneapolis police were able to lift a fingerprint from the burglarized house and ran it through the automated system. The print matched Christopher Burgess. Assistant Hennepin County Attorney Josh Larson prosecuted the case and obtained a guilty verdict. At his sentencing hearing Nov. 30, Neis gave a victim impact statement.

“I was compelled to give an impact statement and read my dad’s handwritten recollection of his experience as a prisoner of war,” she said. “I felt the court, as well as the convict, needed to hear my dad’s voice and realize that if it was not for men like my father, he would not have the rights he was given that day. These tokens my dad received for his valor versus his physical and emotional scars from his war experience. He needed to understand he didn’t just take medals, he took a legacy that was to share with his children and his grandchildren to keep his memory alive.”

Freeman commented on the importance of impact statements, “Our office has been encouraging victims and victim’s families to submit impact statements. Not only does it give the family a chance to unburden themselves, but we have seen judges give tougher sentences than they might otherwise because of those victim impact statements.”

Neis statement had everyone in the courtroom crying or reaching for tissue, Freeman said, including the burglar. He was sentenced to a year in the Hennepin County Workhouse and was released June 18. In late July, the defendant’s lawyer called Larson and asked to meet. He said the medals just showed up in his office and handed them over to Larson.

“I couldn’t believe it,” Neis said when the call came that the medals had been recovered. “My mom had said, ‘Nikki, just keep praying.’ "