FORT WORTH – The sister of the slain Arlington pastor testified Friday about the intense panic she felt after learning her brother had been beaten and suffocated in his church office.
Sarah Mitchell told the Tarrant County court it felt like her brain was on fire. She said she couldn’t process how a person could do something so brutal to someone so good.
Mitchell was one of four witnesses to testify Friday in the sentencing phase of the trial of Steven Lawayne Nelson, who was found guilty of capital murder on Monday. Judge Mike Thomas recessed the trial for the weekend just before 10 a.m.
Nelson has been convicted of suffocating Rev. Clint Dobson with the plastic liner of a small trashcan in his office at Northpointe Baptist Church in March of 2011. As Nelson fled that day, he beat Dobson’s secretary within an inch of her life and stole her car.
Judy Elliott, 67, suffered a heart attack, permanent brain damage and had her jaw broken in five places. But she lived –– Elliott testified Monday that she still has trouble eating.
Friday’s four witnesses each offered piercing, emotional testimony that caused many in the courtroom to cry along with them. Discussing her brother’s character, Mitchell said the 28-year-old offered to take a pay cut to help fund the church.
Dobson’s widow, Laura Dobson, told the court she thought she was pregnant when her husband was murdered. She was devastated when she learned she wasn’t, she said.
Prosecutors have spent the week trying to paint Nelson as an unrepentant, violent threat who is deserving of the death penalty. If he is not sentenced to die, Nelson must spend the rest of his life in prison without parole.
On Wednesday, the court heard from an inmate who said he witnessed Nelson strangle a fellow prisoner in his cell. While no charges have been filed, the medical examiner testified later that Jonathan Holden’s cause of death was a homicide.
The defense will have its chance to convince jurors that Nelson doesn’t deserve execution next week. Judge Thomas expects jurors to be able to begin deliberating on Tuesday.