The man who admitted to fatally beating Steven Nelson last year pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court on Tuesday to a hate crime.
Kelly Schneider, 23, of Nampa, pleaded guilty to the crime, announced Acting Assistant Attorney General Tom Wheeler, head of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, and Idaho U.S. Attorney Wendy J. Olson for the District of Idaho.
Schneider was indicted by a federal grand jury on Jan. 10 with one count of violating the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr., Hate Crimes Prevention Act.
According to the plea agreement, on April 27, Schneider posted a online advertisment for a male escort, including a shirtless photo of himself. Nelson responded to that posting, and Schneider met with him the next evening.
Schneider took Nelson’s money without engaging in any sexual act with Nelson. Before the encounter, Schneider told his friends that he was not gay and would not let anyone who was gay touch him.
In the early morning hours of April 29, Schneider resumed communication with Nelson, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office. Schneider then conspired with other individuals to again rob Mr. Nelson. According to the plan, Schneider was to meet up with Nelson in a parking lot and ask Nelson to drive to Gott’s Point, an isolated wildlife area in the Deer Flat Wildlife Refuge near Lake Lowell, for a sexual encounter.
At Gott’s Point, Schneider would rob Nelson, and two of Schneider’s cohorts would be waiting as “back-up” to assist Schneider if Nelson resisted the robbery, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
When Schneider and Nelson reached Gott’s Point, Schneider immediately began physically assaulting Nelson, kicking him 20-30 times with steel-toed boots and repeatedly using a homophobic slur. Nelson never resisted throughout the attack. He died of his injuries later that day. No one else participated in the assault.
“Kelly Schneider assaulted and killed a man because of the man’s sexual orientation,” said Wheeler. “This is a federal crime, and the Department of Justice will continue to work with our federal and state law enforcement partners to enforce our federal hate crimes laws.”
“Steven Nelson was assaulted and later died because he was gay,” said Olson. “This is precisely the kind of bias motivated violence that the Shepard-Byrd Act was passed to address. The federal prosecution in this case makes clear that this office, the Civil Rights Division and its law enforcement partners will pursue justice when a person is violently attacked based on who he loves and how he loves.”
Sentencing is set for April 26 in front of Chief U.S. District Court Judge B. Lynn Winmill.
The charge of willful assault based on sexual orientation, resulting in death, is punishable by up to life in prison, supervised release of no more than five years, and a $250,000 fine.
Schneider also pleaded guilty on Jan. 23 in Canyon County district court to first-degree murder based on Nelson’s death. Three other suspects are also charged in district court in connection to Nelson’s death.
His co-defendant, Jayson Woods, 28, of Nampa, was convicted of first-degree murder last week for his role in Nelson’s death.
Kevin Tracy and Daniel Henkel are also charged in connection to the murder. Tracy, 21, of Nampa, and Henkel, 23, of Wilder, still await trial in Canyon County.
Schneider is the only suspect charged with a federal crime on top of the state charges.