Arlington church murder suspect has long criminal history

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by REBECCA LOPEZ

Bio | Email | Follow: @rlopezwfaa

WFAA

Posted on March 7, 2011 at 11:46 PM

Updated Tuesday, Mar 8 at 4:07 AM

Steven Nelson, who is one of two men charged in Friday's murder of Arlington church Pastor Clint Dobson, has a criminal history that dates back to his youth.

For most of his life, reports show Nelson tried to make money the fast way — breaking into homes and cars several times.

But last May, for the first time, the career criminal turned violent. DeSoto police say he violently attacked his girlfriend.

According to a police report, Nelson made her stand on a trash bag, placed a knife to her neck, and said:

"Don't think a N-word won't put you in a body bag."

Then, he allegedly choked her.

Toby Shook is a former top prosecutor who examined Nelson's record and said it's not unusual for someone with like him to be released.

"The property crimes are pretty common," Shook said. "The first red flag is the aggravated assault that you see."

In October, Nelson was convicted and sentenced to eight years probation. But Dallas County felt he needed some treatment, so before letting him go, they made him go through an intense treatment program.

Nelson finished that in January and was set free in late February — just days before police allege that he killed an Arlington pastor.

"You have some people who really try to change, and those programs work — but then you have people like this," Shook said.

Counselors at Gateway — a treatment program housed at a prison in Burnet — believed that Nelson had changed.

According to court records, a counselor wrote:

"Nelson believes he has learned about himself and is controlling his anger."

In court papers, Nelson himself made this statement:

"I have changed and will keep myself in line."

So the question is: Did someone drop the ball?

Shook says Nelson got a typical sentence for the attack on his girlfriend, and said in this case it's hard to blame the system.

"Hindsight is 20-20," Shook said. "No one can predict from that record that he's going to go and commit a horrible, violent crime such as this. You really can't blame the police; you can't blame the prosecutor; and you can't blame the judge."

Shook said the only one to really blame is Nelson.

E-mail rlopez@wfaa.com

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