The group “Better Idaho” delivered petitions with more than 1,500 signatures Thursday to U.S. Attorney Wendy Olson calling for federal hate crime charges to be filed against the four men accused of beating Steven Nelson to death. Nelson, 49, was robbed, stripped, kicked and beaten and left for dead; he died a few hours later at a hospital.
Jordan Brady, research director for Better Idaho, a web-based nonprofit that bills itself as “a communications shop for progressive ideas,” said, “Steven’s death wasn’t a robbery gone wrong, and it wasn’t an accident. It was a group of people who chose to rob, humiliate, and brutally murder someone who was hand-picked because of their sexual orientation.” He also called for amending Idaho’s state hate crime law to cover crimes motivated by the victim’s sexual orientation or gender identity, which currently aren’t covered.
Canyon County Sheriff Kieran Donahue earlier this month, in an interview with the Idaho Statesman’s editorial board, confirmed the FBI is looking into the possibility that Nelson was targeted by his killers because he was gay.
Olson’s office will then use the FBI’s report to decide whether to file charges under the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2009. That law is somewhat complicated, she told the Statesman: “We have to prove that the offense occurred because of the protected status of the victim,” and prosecutors must also prove that the crime somehow affected interstate commerce for federal charges to proceed.
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In the April 29 incident, Nelson responded to an ad for a sexual encounter on Backpage.com and arranged to meet a man and pay him for sex, police said. Police said Kelly B. Schneider, 22, of Nampa, met Nelson and had him drive to a deserted spot at the Gott’s Point area of Lake Lowell. Schneider, allegedly assisted by Jayson C. Woods, 28, also from Nampa, pushed Nelson to the ground and kicked him at least 30 times with steel-toed boots, a prosecutor said.
Two other men, Kevin R. Tracy, 21, of Nampa, and Daniel A. Henkel, 23, of Nampa, hid nearby in case they were needed, police said.
All four are charged with first-degree murder.
Investigators are looking to the federal law in Nelson’s death because Idaho’s Malicious Harassment statute does not cover violence committed because of the victim’s sexual orientation.
“The FBI and my office are going to give this a good, hard look, and I’m confident we’ll get to the best decision for the facts of the case,” Olson told The Spokesman-Review this week.