FORT WORTH – Steven Lawayne Nelson showed no emotion Monday as a Tarrant County jury convicted him of brutally strangling an Arlington pastor to death with the plastic liner of a trashcan.
Nelson’s trial began on October 1 and concluded Monday. Jurors took just more than an hour to convict Nelson, 25, of capital murder. Sentencing began at about 2 p.m. The prosecution is seeking the death penalty.
In opening statements last week, prosecutors painted the 25-year-old as a monster who left his home on March 3, 2011 “seeking prey.” Nelson pleaded not guilty to the murder and appeared in court wearing shackles throughout the trial. Authorities considered Nelson to be a threat; he’s also a suspect in the murder of a fellow inmate.
Nelson was convicted of entering the Northpointe Baptist Church and attacking Rev. Clint Dobson on March 3, 2011, eventually wrapping the trashcan liner around his face until he died. A police officer testified that, upon finding his body, it appeared “as if the preacher was gasping for his last breath.”
Nelson brutally beat Dobson’s secretary Judy Elliott on his way out of the church and stole her car. Her husband John Elliott testified that his wife was bludgeoned so badly that he did not recognize her as she pleaded for help.
Mrs. Elliott, 67, suffered a heart attack, permanent brain damage and had her jaw broken in five places. She testified that she could not recall the attack and still has difficulty eating.
Last week, under cross-examination by Tarrant County prosecutor Bob Gill, Nelson said he walked into the church and found Dobson, 28, and his secretary beaten and lying on the floor. He testified that he stole Dobson’s laptop but was not responsible for the attacks.
The person who bought the computer from Nelson also testified. The jury was shown surveillance footage of the transaction, which happened in the parking lot of a tire store the day of the murder.
During closing arguments Monday, the defense argued that two of Nelson’s friends were the ones who killed the pastor. Last week, defense attorney Bill Ray attempted to convince the jury there may have been another person present by challenging a crime scene technician about the location of a trash can in Dobson’s office.
However, prosecutors said there was no evidence proving this –– if Nelson wasn't involved, why did he reenter the office to steal property?
The prosecution also entered in evidence that Nelson went on a shopping spree in Mrs. Elliott’s stolen car immediately after the murder and attack. While prosecutors showed images of the crime scene, Nelson never showed emotion.
During the sentencing phase, a number of individuals who had contact with Nelson throughout his life took the stand. His juvenile probation officer was first. Mary Kelleher told the court Nelson said he misbehaved when he was young because he was "bored." She said she found him "interesting."
The probation officer didn't understand why Nelson continually found himself in trouble with the law while he was young.
"There didn't seem to be a reason for it," Kelleher said.
She added Nelson had a normal family, yet he acted out as a child. He pulled fire alarms and skipped school. When he was 13, Nelson committed burglary and stole a car. The prosecution said he set his mother's bed on fire when he was three-years-old.
Years later he would be convicted for killing the pastor. The defense attempted to blame his parents for the bad behaivior. His attorney said Nelson's mother let her daughter go deaf by not taking her to the doctor.
Kelleher, however, said Nelon's mom wasn't a bad person. She said she found no evidence that his mother ever neglected or abused him.
Sgt. David Rahman,who pulled Nelson over for driving a stolen car, testified. Three prison guards explained that Nelson's been a particularly violent inmate –– the 25-year-old is suspected in the death of an inmate and attacked a guard.
The court stopped for the day at about 4:30 p.m. Sentencing could last all week.