Ex-principal’s wife in court on abuse charges; motion to dismiss reveals new details

Pamela Nelson and Tony Nelson
Pamela Nelson and Tony Nelson Canyon County Sheriff's Office

The wife of former Star Middle School Principal Tony Nelson — who along with her husband was charged in May with abusing two adopted children — has not seen her five biological children in months, her attorney said in Canyon County Court on Monday afternoon.

Third District Court Judge Andrea Courtney agreed to amend a no-contact order that prohibited Pamela W. Nelson, 49, from having contact with any minors to allow her to speak with her biological children on the phone. The children range in age 5 to 16, her attorney said.

The judge said Nelson is still prohibited from talking to the two adopted children she’s accused of abusing, and she may not discuss the case with her biological children.

Pamela and Tony Nelson, 50, were both indicted by a grand jury. Grand jury hearings are secret. The person accused is not allowed to be present when prosecutors present their case to a panel of citizens.

Pamela Nelson was charged with three felony counts of injury to children. She’s accused of withholding food from the children, locking one child in a room for long periods of time, and hitting one with a spoon in the buttocks so hard that it left bruises.

The alleged abuse occurred between Jan. 1, 2016, and Jan. 24, 2019, at the Nelsons’ home in Canyon County. The children are now 10 and 14 years old.

In early August, Pamela Nelson’s attorney, Krista L. Howard, filed a motion to dismiss the case. Howard alleges that prosecutors presented inadmissible evidence to the grand jury, including hearsay, and did not provide legally sufficient evidence that Nelson committed a crime.

Howard argues in the motion that the assessment of the children at St. Luke’s CARES (Children at Risk Evaluation Services) was flawed, in part because one child could barely communicate in English and the other child gave significantly different time periods and details of alleged abuse to investigators and the grand jury.

The motion also says prosecutors did not provide evidence of a physician’s expertise in determining that one child had a pattern of injury on her buttocks.

And it says that prosecutors provided insufficient evidence that Nelson withheld food from the children and had only the doctor’s testimony that the female child should have gained 15 to 20 pounds in two years, but had gained little or no weight until she was out of that home.

“Lack of weight gain does not establish probable cause,” Howard wrote. She said prosecutors did not describe any ailments as a result of alleged malnourishment.

The physician testified to the grand jury that the boy endured “child torture, psychological maltreatment and physical assault,” the motion says, but prosecutors did not “lay the proper foundation of that opinion.”

The boy testified to the grand jury that he was locked up for months, forced to wear urine-soaked clothes for days after he peed on the floor and forced to sleep outside as punishment. The motion to dismiss says the boy had been inconsistent in giving the time frames for these alleged incidents and what time of year (winter or summer) he was allegedly forced to sleep outside.

Additionally, the document reveals that Nelson told the detective investigating the case that she did not withhold food from the boy, but that he had digestive issues and was served meals in his room. He gained 20 pounds in three weeks after he was removed from the Nelsons’ home on Jan. 24, according to grand jury testimony cited in the motion.

Courtney will take up the motion to dismiss at a hearing scheduled for 10 a.m. on Oct. 1. The judge also moved Pamela Nelson’s trial date to 8:30 a.m. Nov. 19.

Tony Nelson was charged with two counts of injury to children. According to the indictment, he’s accused of allowing food to be withheld from a child long enough for the child to become malnourished and/or allowing a child to be locked in a room causing extreme mental suffering and/or hitting a child, leaving bruises on his buttocks or lower back area.

His trial is set for Oct. 15.

Soon after the indictments, the West Ada School District announced that Nelson, whose salary was $95,875 a year, was placed on unpaid leave. But due to some concern from district officials about the wording of a no-contact order, he was paid in June and July, West Ada School District spokesman Eric Exline told the Statesman previously.

District officials decided to have Star Middle School Vice Principal Tyler Pence continue to serve as acting principal for the start of the 2019-20 school year, Exline said.

Tony Nelson’s contract with the school district has ended, and he will receive his last paycheck later this month. He has not signed a contract for any other job with the school district, Exline said Monday.