Tarrant County jailers are breathing a collective sigh of relief: Ladies and gentlemen, Steven Lawayne Nelson has left the building. Convicted and sentenced to death for suffocating a 28-year-old Arlington preacher and suspected in the killing of a fellow inmate, Nelson's new home is the Polunsky Unit in Polk County, just east of Huntsville.
"We're certainly not going to miss him," Tarrant County Sheriff's Office spokesman Terry Grisham told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.
It's easy to see why not. As I researched a feature story about the life and death of the mentally ill inmate whom investigators believe was strangled by Nelson, I requested Nelson's inmate file. 'Voluminous' is a word that comes to mind. The man's a hell-raiser. He scuffled with jailers on several occasions. He used a spray bottle to douse fellow inmates in a mixture of urine and feces. Nelson once tossed a mop bucket filled with urine in another inmate's eyes.
He flooded his cell a couple of times. He covered the walls of his cell with graffiti. For whatever reason, he handed jailers a plastic utensil that had been fashioned into a shiv. He smashed sprinkler heads and pranced through the day-room as it flooded. When he was finished, he got down on his stomach and pretended to perform a breast stroke.
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To protest his transfer to a single-cell unit, he shattered his light fixture. He blackguarded and threatened, but he also killed. During his sentencing hearing, an inmate who was housed in a cell across from a mentally ill man named Jonathan Holden says he watched Nelson strangle the man through the cell bars with a blanket. Clippings of Holden's fingernails were sent to a forensics lab, which discovered Nelson's DNA.
And finally, as the jury handed him a death sentence, Nelson flooded his holding cell. The water and the pungent aroma of flame retardant seeped into the courtroom, along with Nelson's screams.
"The carpet was still wet in the courtroom when he sat down for his first lovely meal on death row," Grisham told the Star-Telegram (Kudos to reporter Deanna Boyd for the most money quote of the year).
Maybe Tarrant County shouldn't get too used to Nelson's absence, though. There's another death on his hands. I put in a call to prosecutor Bob Gill to see whether Nelson will be tried for Holden's death. I'll update when/if I hear back from him.