Monday, November 2, 2009

Nelson Trial, Continued

Closing arguments were completed today.  In the morning, I was in the jury pool for the David Dingle trial, and missed prosecutor Christine Chenevert's presentation.  After lunch, the jury was empaneled for the Dingle trial before I was called for interview, and I was excused in time to see much of public defender Lael Kayfetz' closing argument.  At times I feel like a flea trying to describe the elephant.  Kayfetz hammered away at inconsistencies in the testimony of prosecution witnesses, and appeared effective, particularly in undermining the testimony of Steve Marshall, who lied about his alcohol use, Sylvina Logan, whose memory the prosecution even admitted was getting foggy, and Sylvia Jenkins, a meth user since she was 13 and the primary suspect in the arson of Logan's home.  One point I had not realized was that although Marshall's claim that he witnessed the kidnapping and the murder was what kicked the investigation off dead center, the prosecution did not even call him as a witness.  He was instead called by the defense in an effort to show inconsistencies in the case. 
Kayfetz faces a much bigger hurdle in convincing the jury that Nelson made a false confession, but may have made some inroads.  Her most notable point may have been that Nelson, after confessing to the murder, did not identify the correct location of the body, but instead mentioned a different location which may have been suggested to him by the interrogator.  She also spent some time going over the possible alibi testimony of Ken and Diane Oliver, and Barbara Gaedel, as well as a police report indicating that a deputy saw Nelson and Joyce Croy at the home of Nelson's parents an hour after the kidnapping. 
In her final rebuttal, Chenevert claimed that the timeline was irrelevant, that Nelson could have taken Cook to Hoopa anytime, not necessarily right after the kidnapping.  She did not attempt to defend Steve Marshall's testimony, asserting that his testimony wasn't even necessary since they had a confession.  One thing that surprises me is that nobody suggested that Cook might have been taken first to the Aubrey place on Clear Creek, which is 10-15 minutes away from Happy Camp.  For myself, if I wasn't feeling reckless, a round trip from Happy Camp to Hoopa would be more like a three hour drive. 
Chenevert showed the last two minutes of Nelson's confession on video.  Nelson appeared extremely uncomfortable, but the sound was, unfortunately, inaudible to the back of the trial room in the courthouse basement.  She ended with two minutes of silence, representing the two minutes that it allegedly took Nelson to strangle Cook, while juxtaposing a 3 foot photo of the six year old victim with a still of Nelson in the interrogation room, and a very brief exhortation to the jury to do the right thing and find Nelson guilty of both charges. 

The jury instructions will be given tomorrow morning, Tuesday the 3rd.  The jury will probably begin deliberations the same day.  Although there are thing I still don't fully understand, such as how damaging the actual testimony of Nelson's twin sister was, the case will hinge mainly on whether the jury believes Nelson's confession.  Will the jury buy the prosecution contention that false confessions are so rare that the possibility can be discounted, or will they have nagging doubts based on defense claims that a weary and drugged Nelson was simply parroting information fed to him by officers Mendes, Blaney and Hilsenberg. 
There is still the possibility of a split verdict.  The jury could convict Nelson of kidnapping  based on his apparently more willing admission that he did transport the victim, but hang or even acquit on the murder charge.  I would not expect a verdict before Wednesday.
Dave Smith's story in the Daily News  here Covers the prosecution's closing arguments. 

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