It’s been nearly a year since Steven Nelson died, but his family relives his last hours daily.
His father, Edgar Nelson, wakes each night and “walks that last mile” with Steven, who in April 2016 was badly beaten, stripped naked and robbed by four men in the night near Lake Lowell in Nampa.
Dennis Nelson, Steven’s oldest brother, still suffers nightmares in which he sees Steven being kicked repeatedly with steel-toed boots. Steven’s mother, Mary, misses her youngest son’s daily phone calls.
Steven’s family, including his two other brothers and his sister, gathered Monday in a Canyon County courtroom, their victim impact statements in hand as they waited for the first of Steven’s attackers to be sentenced.
“You want to talk about impact on our lives?” Edgar Nelson asked 3rd District Judge Thomas J. Ryan. “I don’t know where to start. After 49 years, his prints are in our lives and in our hearts everywhere.”
Steven Nelson died after he responded to an online ad promising a sexual encounter. He was instead attacked by Kelly Schneider, who yelled homophobic slurs while kicking him repeatedly with steel-toed boots, then stripped and robbed him in the pre-dawn darkness near Gott’s Point, prosecutors have said.
The critically injured man walked, naked and without shoes, for about a half mile after the April 29 assault to reach a house and get help. He died several hours later at a hospital but was able to provide Canyon County sheriff’s investigators with detailed information that helped identify his attackers.
Edgar Nelson described what he believed his son may have suffered the night he was beaten.
“When you think about torture ... I don’t know how you could inflict more torture than I just described,” the father said.
One by one, the Nelsons, through tears, shared bits of Steven’s life. He loved books, followed politics closely, advocated for gay rights. He was “a fair mechanic,” his father said, and made beautiful flower arrangements for his mother.
Though Steven was gay, his family said they didn’t define him by his sexuality.
Steven’s father said the family first found out Steven was gay when he was in high school and came home covered in bruises, the result of being bullied for being homosexual. Later, gay slurs were written on the family car and eggs were thrown at their home, Edgar Nelson said.
“I pointed out to him that he had chosen a difficult lifestyle,” Edgar said in his statement. “He said, ‘It wasn’t chosen. It’s just the way I am.’”
“Steven wasn’t our gay brother. He was just our brother,” said sister Connie Nelson-Cleverley.
To her left, clad in a yellow-and-white striped jail jumpsuit, sat 23-year-old Schneider.
Head bowed, he listened to the Nelsons speak for about an hour. His head stayed down as the judge handed down his sentence: Life in prison, with 28 years before he’ll be eligible for parole.
The judge, whose sentence was more harsh than the standard for murder in Idaho, said he believed Schneider “should not be released any earlier than reaching the age of 60. And that may be too soon.”
Ryan’s decision Monday came after testimony from prosecutors that Schneider has a history of violent behavior. Prosecutors also pointed out that the group involved in the murder planned similar robberies in the same time frame.
Schneider, believed to be the “ringleader” of the crime, in January pleaded guilty to the murder and robbery. Accused of targeting Steven Nelson because he was gay, Schneider later pleaded guilty to a federal hate crime. He will be sentenced on that later charge on April 26, nearly a year to the day after the attack.
Schneider’s lawyer Monday said his client wished to apologize to Steven’s family.
“I understand that no matter what I do, I can never make right what I did wrong. ... I’m not asking anybody for forgiveness, because I don’t deserve it,” the soft-spoken Schneider then said.
Schneider is one of four people who were charged with various crimes related to Steven’s death. A codefendant, Jayson Woods, is scheduled to be sentenced Tuesday. Kevin Tracy and Daniel Henkel, who have both pleaded guilty, were accused of hiding nearby during the attack in case Schneider needed backup. Tracy’s sentencing hearing is set for April 24; Henkel’s is May 1.
Though Steven Nelson’s family seemed pleased by the judge’s decision, it likely won’t quiet the nightmares that several of them said they experience regularly.
“In my imagination, I walk that mile over and over with Steven,” said his father.