The ringleader in the brutal murder and robbery of a gay man near Lake Lowell last spring admitted to first-degree murder Monday and hours later was charged with a federal hate crime.
A federal grand jury sitting in Boise indicted Kelly Schneider, 23, of Nampa, on Jan. 10, accusing him of attacking Steven Nelson, 49, because of his sexual orientation.
The indictment was unsealed after Schneider was taken into federal custody while leaving Canyon County 3rd District Court.
He is scheduled to be arraigned Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Boise before Magistrate Ronald Bush. A trial date will be set at the same time.
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Nelson died April 29 after he responded to an online ad promising a sexual encounter. He was instead attacked by Schneider, who kicked him repeatedly with steel-toed boots, then stripped and robbed him in the pre-dawn darkness near Gott’s Point, prosecutors said.
The critically injured man walked, naked and without shoes, for about a half mile 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.
In court Monday, Schneider said he intended to rob Nelson but not kill him. He also admitted kicking the man repeatedly and acknowledged that his actions caused the man’s death, said Chris Topmiller, Canyon County’s chief criminal deputy prosecutor.
Felony robbery, theft and robbery conspiracy charges against Schneider, 23, were dropped in exchange for his guilty plea on the murder charge. He faces up to life in prison when sentenced March 20 in 3rd District Court. Prosecutors can recommend a fixed sentence as high as 28 years before parole eligibility, and the defense can ask for as little as 10 years,
The trial of co-defendant Jayson Woods, 28, began in 3rd District Court on Monday, and the other two suspects, Kevin R. Tracy and Daniel Henkel, are scheduled as witnesses in that trial, a Canyon County spokesman said.
Woods, 28, of Nampa, is accused of helping Schneider as he beat and robbed Nelson of his car, wallet and other possessions. Tracy, 21, of Nampa, and Henkel, 23, of Wilder, are accused of hiding nearby in case Nelson put up a struggle and Schneider needed more muscle.
Tracy is scheduled to go to trial Feb. 6 for first-degree murder, robbery and conspiracy charges. Henkel is set for trial March 6 on the same charges. They have both pleaded not guilty.
The federal Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2009 criminalizes willfully causing injury or death based on a protected status such as the victim’s race, religion, or sexual orientation.
When an individual is attacked because of their sexual orientation or gender identity, prosecutors must also prove that the crime somehow affected interstate commerce, which allows a person to be charged under the federal statute, U.S. Attorney for Idaho Wendy Olson told the Statesman last year. If the perpetrators used a cellphone or a computer with access to the internet in furtherance of their crime, that would qualify, she said.
Kristin Rodine: 208-377-6447
Statesman reporter John Sowell contributed to the story.