Daniel Aragon Henkel haltingly admitted Friday that he was nearby, ready to assist in the robbery of Steven Nelson, while Kelly Schneider robbed, stripped and brutally kicked Nelson after luring him to the remote spot with an ad for gay sex.
Before accepting Henkel’s guilty plea to felony aiding and abetting robbery, 3rd District Judge Christopher Nye repeatedly prompted Henkel to describe what he did beyond simply saying “I aided and abetted.”
Asked if he had a weapon and why, Henkel replied that he had a brass pipe that he could use to break windows in Nelson’s car.
Henkel’s plea agreement would put him in a prison-based treatment and evaluation program for up to a year. Depending on its outcome, the judge could release him on probation or send him back to prison to complete his full sentence.
The 23-year-old could receive 5 years to life in prison for the aiding robbery conviction, but no specific sentence is called for in the plea deal. Nye said a possible 7 years for Henkel violating his probation in a 2015 case would be served at the same time.
Henkel had been scheduled to start trial on murder and robbery charges Monday, but now is set for sentencing on May 1. According to the deal, he can withdraw his plea and go to trial if Nye, after reviewing a presentence evaluation, decides not to agree to the prison-based treatment program.
Prosecutors said they agreed to the deal because Henkel cooperated with law enforcement and testified in the trial of Jayson Woods, the only one of the four defendants who went to trial rather than entering a plea.
Nelson family members watched Friday’s hearing from the courtroom’s front row. They declined to comment on the plea, which could wrap up the final prosecution of those behind the brutal April 27 murder.
Ringleader Kelly Schneider has pleaded guilty to murder and a federal hate crime for repeatedly kicking Nelson with steel-toed boots, robbing him and leaving him naked and critically wounded in a remote area of the Deer Flat National Wildlife Refuge.
Woods, who at one point described himself as the “salesman” in the plan to lure Nelson with an ad for gay sex, went to trial and was convicted last month of murder, robbery and conspiracy in addition to accepting the earnings of a prostitute.
Co-defendant Kevin Robert Tracy of Nampa also testified against Woods and pleaded guilty Feb. 13 to aiding and abetting robbery.
Kristin Rodine: 208-377-6447