FORT WORTH — Believed to be a threat for possible violent outbursts, murder suspect Steve Nelson walked into court Monday with his hands and feet shackled, and with additional bailiffs present.
Monday was the first day of Nelson’s murder trial in Fort Worth. He is accused of murdering Arlington Pastor Clint Dobson and assaulting his assistant, Judy Elliott.
Since he was jailed on the capital murder charge, Nelson also became a suspect in another murder case involving a fellow inmate.
With around 30 members of NorthPointe Baptist Church in attendance, Nelson pleaded not guilty to Nelson’s murder.
In opening statements, the prosecutor said Nelson left his home on March 3, 2011 “seeking prey.”
The prosecutor said Nelson entered the NorthPointe Baptist Church and immediately attacked Dobson — allegedly knocking him out, binding him and then suffocating him by placing a trash can liner over his head.
"Sucked into his mouth," said one police officer, "as if the preacher was gasping for his last breath."
Testimony moved quickly to detail the grisly crime scene.
Pastor Dobson had missed two lunch appointments. No one could reach him or his secretary, Judy Elliott.
John Elliott, Judy’s husband, testified Monday that he was the first to enter the church, and he found his wife badly beaten on the floor of the pastor’s office. However, he said his wife’s face was so swollen he did not realize it was her — even as she asked him for help. He called 911 still not knowing it was his wife as her car had been stolen from the lot, he said.
"I really didn't recognize her at first," he told the jury. "I didn't recognize her at first. An officer went over and roused her. Then I said, 'Oh my God... that's my wife!'"
Elliott said in a trembling voice that it was only then that he saw Pastor Dobson's body, and he provided police with confirmation of Dobson's identity.
Mrs. Elliott suffered a heart attack, a broken jaw in five places, and permanent brain damage. Mr. Elliott said she still can’t recall the attack and has trouble eating to this day.
Prosecutors have evidence that Steven Nelson stole Judy Elliott's car and immediately went on a shopping binge using her credit cards to buy shoes and cheap jewelry.
Nelson watched impassively as bloody crime scene photos were shown to the jurors.
Members of Dodson's church family were clearly shaken after witnessing the crime scene photos that were entered into evidence, but one juror appeared to fall asleep and had to be prodded by bailiffs.