Update: Steven Lawayne Nelson, who was just handed a death sentence in the suffocation of an Arlington preacher, has flooded his holding cell and the courtroom, according to Star-Telegram reporter Dianna Hunt's Twitter feed. She said he could be heard screaming as water began seeping into the courtroom.
Original item: Jurors handed a death sentence to a man accused of suffocating an Arlington preacher Tuesday. Steven Lawayne Nelson's defense attorneys did exactly what they were paid to: Namely, they valiantly attempted to sow doubt where they could in the prosecution's otherwise damning narrative, which depicted a man who was as dangerous in prison as he was on the outside.
Nelson was found guilty last week in the capital murder of NorthPointe Baptist's Clinton Dobson, 28, and the severe beating of his assistant Judy Elliott during a robbery. To secure his death sentence, prosecutors brought out extensive evidence indicating Dobson wasn't the only man Nelson has ever killed. Though no charges have been filed, prosecutors and investigators with the Tarrant County Sheriff's Office believe Nelson is responsible for the death of inmate Jonathan Holden, 30, as he awaited trial. Holden was a paranoid schizophrenic who'd been arrested after wandering around the Trophy Club/Westlake area in March. It was cold that night, so he broke into a car and wrapped himself in a jacket he found inside. The car's owner called the cops, and Holden was picked up a short time after. He ended up housed in the same tank as Nelson.
Nelson's defense attorneys, Billy Ray and Steve Gordon, worked to invoke the shadow of doubt surrounding Holden's death in the jurors' minds. According to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, they brought in a forensic pathologist from Minnesota named John Plunkett, who seemed to theorize that Holden's death was at most assisted suicide.
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"He must have been an active participant for this to have occurred," Plunkett testified under questioning by the defense. "I would say this is probably a suicide."
On cross examination, prosecutor Page Simpson asked whether Plunkett was familiar with the testimony of an inmate housed in a cell directly across from Holden's when he died. The inmate, whom we've been asked not to identify for fear of reprisals, said he watched Nelson strangle Holden with a blanket.
Or, we might add, was Plunkett familiar with the testimony of a forensics expert who found Nelson's DNA beneath Holden's fingernails?
At the end, the jury decided to put an end to Nelson's murderous life. Now that the Tarrant County District Attorney's Office has won this battle, we wonder whether they will prosecute him for the death of Holden. We reached out to the district attorney's press officer, and we'll let you know when we hear back from her.