FORT WORTH, Texas — A man convicted Monday of killing a North Texas pastor in his church caused various problems while jailed after his arrest — including assaulting jailers — but his criminal record began when he was a young teenager, witnesses testified during the punishment phase of his trial.
Steven Lawayne Nelson, 25, is facing the death penalty or life in prison without parole for the suffocation death of the Rev. Clint Dobson at Arlington's NorthPointe Baptist Church in March 2011. Nelson also beat the church secretary so severely that she suffered a broken jaw and memory problems, and then he stole her car and other items.
Jurors in Fort Worth deliberated a little more than an hour Monday morning before finding Nelson guilty of capital murder. Prosecutor Page Simpson said during closing arguments that Nelson forced Dobson and his secretary, Judy Elliott, to tie each other up. Simpson called Nelson a "predator" who committed a terrible crime because he wanted to steal a car and the victims' credit cards.
Nelson denied killing the minister. He told jurors last week that two friends committed the crime while he stayed outside, and he only entered the church to steal a laptop.
But prosecutors showed the jury text messages Nelson sent the day after the killing, including one saying that he messed up. In another sent the day of the murder, he wrote: "I don't mean to brag. I'm a monster." Blood from both victims was found on a pair of Nelson's shoes, and studs from his belt were found at the church, according to testimony.
During the penalty phase of his trial, which began about two hours after he was convicted, Tarrant County juvenile services intake supervisor Mary Kelleher said Nelson was 14 when he was sent to a juvenile prison for unauthorized use of a motor vehicle, burglary and criminal trespassing.
Kelleher said the judge chose the most serious punishment because Nelson had not responded to court-ordered probation and rehabilitation programs. But she said she liked Nelson, and she testified that when she asked him about his behavior, he told her he was bored.
Defense attorneys suggested that Nelson had serious family issues that led to setting his mother's bed on fire at age 3 and his other intentional attempts at burning down his house at age 6.
Kelleher said she did not know about those incidents, apparently documented in reports from Oklahoma, where Nelson and his family lived before moving to Texas.
Several Tarrant County jail guards testified that about a year ago, Nelson broke a jail phone when he became upset after talking to someone. Nelson then cursed, threatened and bumped one guard, and it took three to restrain him, according to testimony.
Nelson has been charged with assaulting another jailer in October 2011, which happened about a month later. Nelson also is a suspect in another inmate's death.
Jail guards also testified that during his time in jail before the trial, Nelson broke a light in his cell and destroyed sprinkler heads, and that guards found a shank and narcotics in his cell.
Testimony by prosecution and then defense witnesses is expected to continue the rest of the week, after which jurors will decide Nelson's sentence.