Jayson Woods didn’t brutally kick Steven Nelson near Lake Lowell last April. But he assembled a “pack” and engineered the plan to lure the gay man to a remote spot to rob him.
For that, 3rd District Judge George Southworth said Tuesday, the 28-year-old should serve at least 28 years in prison for Steven Nelson’s murder. That’s the same total handed down Monday to Kelly Schneider, the reputedly violent homophobe who delivered the devastating blows and then left the 49-year-old Nelson naked, barefoot and bleeding along a remote gravel road. Nelson died of a heart attack a few hours later after seeking help.
Southworth gave Woods a somewhat shorter sentence — 23 years to life — for first-degree murder and conspiracy to commit robbery, because Schneider “was the one that made the decision to keep kicking Mr. Nelson long after it became unnecessary.” But the judge added on another five years for Woods accepting the earnings of a prostitute.
After the hearing, Nelson’s brother Eric told the Statesman the family agrees with the statements and sentence handed down by Southworth.
“We thought he was equally or more responsible for Steven’s death,” Eric Nelson said.
Chris Boyd, a deputy Canyon County prosecutor, made the same point in court. Woods, he said, assembled accomplices to lure and rob prostitution clients, at first targeting heterosexuals before determining going after gays was a better way to get money.
Although Schneider was initially described as the ringleader of the attack on Nelson, he was portrayed during Woods’ sentencing hearing as the muscle, basically doing Woods’ bidding. And both prosecutor and judge used “mastermind” to describe Woods’ role.
“In short,” Boyd said, “a good man’s dead because of the defendant’s greed. Without Jayson Woods, this crime does not happen. Steven Nelson’s cries of pain, his pleas for mercy are on this man’s head. (Nelson’s) death is on his head. His family’s suffering is on his head.”
Defense attorney Lary Sisson said Woods never intended violence, saying his client, who is bisexual, “wanted Kelly Schneider to render services so Mr. Nelson would willingly pay. ... The only real agreement is that they wanted $140 from Mr. Nelson.”
But, Boyd stressed, Woods knew Schneider was a violent man who harbored a hatred of gays.
As at Schneider’s sentencing the day before, both of Nelson’s parents and all four of his siblings offered statements about the murder’s devastating impact on their lives. Three of the siblings traveled from Colorado and Alaska to attend the hearings.
Father Edgar Nelson of Mountain Home again described his youngest son’s April 29 ordeal in excruciating detail.
The severely injured man walked barefoot before dawn through weeds and gravel to seek help at a house with lights on, wrapping a welcome mat around himself to conceal his nakedness. When he finally found some refuge in a Canyon County sheriff’s deputy’s car, Nelson’s first thought was to warn emergency responders that he had hepatitis C, incurred during a blood transfusion after an auto wreck, brother Eric Nelson said.
Family members spoke of Steven Nelson’s love for books, joy in a new job at Boise State University and endless compassion.
“If he couldn’t help you directly, he’d find someone who could,” eldest brother Dennis Nelson of Nampa said. “His death was society’s loss.”
Wearing orange jail garb with his hair cut short, Woods looked directly at each person who discussed his crimes and character. His face betrayed no emotion. When his time came to speak, he read a brief statement saying he was very sorry for the family’s loss and “can’t fathom the pain they’re going through.” He also apologized to his own family.
Defense attorney Sisson urged the judge to limit Woods’ incarceration to 10 years, saying a lenient sentence would show respect for Steven Nelson’s much-praised empathy and compassion for others.
But the judge and prosecutor said Woods has shown no compassion or remorse for his crime. “His only apparent regret was not knowing the felony murder rule so he could invent a better lie,” Boyd said.
Sisson said his client “has begun to change” after kicking a drug habit, and he wants to “help young people and be the kind of mentor to them that he needed in his youth.”
Woods was abused and abandoned as a child, he said, calling that treatment “the seeds of losing compassion and understanding for other people.” He suggested one primary difference between his client and Nelson was that, despite both facing “significant and similar obstacles in their lives ... Mr. Nelson had a loving, supportive family, and Mr. Woods did not.”
Boyd called that comparison “an insult to countless others” who maintain empathy despite rough upbringing. Southworth later concurred: “A lot of people are raised in not the best households and turn out just fine.”
Woods is the only one of the four suspects who went to trial rather than entering a plea. A jury found him guilty in February.
Schneider, 23, will be sentenced again later this month for a federal hate crime, for targeting Nelson as a gay man. Kevin Tracy and Daniel Henkel, who testified against Woods and pleaded guilty to lesser charges, will also be sentenced in the next few weeks.
Now headed to prison, Woods will receive credit for the nearly 12 months in jail he’s served. Judge Southworth also ordered him to pay a $5,000 civil penalty to the Nelson family, but said he doubts that debt will ever be paid.
Kristin Rodine: 208-377-6447