Judge rejects plea deal, sends final defendant in Lake Lowell killing to prison

Daniel Henkel
Daniel Henkel

Third District Judge Christopher Nye rejected a plea deal that would have put Daniel Henkel in a prison-based treatment and evaluation program for up to a year, after which he could have been considered for probation rather than completing his prison sentence.

Instead, Nye sentenced Henkel Monday morning to at least 4 and up to 20 years in prison, with no provision for retained jurisdiction for evaluation.

Henkel, 23, of Wilder, pleaded guilty to a reduced charge of felony aiding and abetting robbery in exchange for his cooperation in prosecuting the two primary suspects who planned and carried out the robbery and murder of Steven Nelson last April. Henkel is the fourth and final defendant to be sentenced in the case.

Separately, he also must serve 3 to 7 years for violating his probation on a 2015 drug conviction.

Kelly Schneider, who forced Nelson to strip, robbed him and kicked him repeatedly with steel-toed boots, will serve 28 years to life in prison for first-degree murder and a federal hate crime. Jayson Woods, allegedly the mastermind of the plan to lure the openly gay man to a remote Canyon County spot near Lake Lowell with an ad offering sex, got the same sentence. Woods was the only one of the four defendants who went to trial and was convicted by a jury.

Like Kevin Tracy — who was sentenced last week to six months in jail but could serve 10 to 25 years if he violates probation — Henkel admitted waiting nearby while Schneider brutalized Nelson. The two men were reportedly on hand in case Schneider needed backup, and Henkel admitted in court he was carrying a brass pipe during the pre-dawn attack.

All of the defendants have been behind bars since shortly after the April 29, 2016 murder. Left naked, bleeding and severely injured, Nelson walked barefoot to a nearby home where a resident called for help. The 49-year-old Boise man died a few hours later of cardiac arrest, according to court records.

The brutal killing sparked widespread outrage and mourning for Nelson, a highly regarded Boise State University employee. A fundraiser last month brought in more than $5,000 for the Steven Nelson Emergency Fund, a program to help lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students at Boise State.