Jurors deciding sentence for Texas pastor's killer

Associated Press

FORT WORTH, Texas (AP) — A convicted felon found guilty of killing a pastor in his North Texas church because he wanted to steal a car should be sentenced to death, prosecutors told jurors Tuesday.

Jurors are deliberating whether Steven Lawayne Nelson, 25, should be sentenced to death or life in prison without parole.

For a death sentence, jurors must unanimously agree that Nelson poses a danger to society, that he intended to kill and that there were no mitigating circumstances to diminish his culpability in the crime.

During closing arguments Tuesday, prosecutors said that killing the Rev. Clint Dobson and severely beat Dobson's secretary at Arlington's NorthPointe Baptist Church last year was heinous and vicious. Prosecutors said Nelson wanted to steal a car that day and after walking down the street, he spotted the secretary's car in the church parking lot, about a mile from his house.

Prosecutor Bob Gill said Nelson has committed crimes since he was a young teen and has been given many chances to rehabilitate in juvenile facilities, but "the consequences have not straightened him out." Nelson even caused problems while awaiting his murder trial, stashing razor blades in his cell, breaking sprinklers and fatally strangling an inmate with a blanket, according to testimony during the trial.

"Now you know why the state decided to seek the death penalty," Gill told jurors. "That's all that can be done here. It could not be more clear."

Defense attorneys asked jurors to spare Nelson's life, saying he was a troubled child who didn't get the proper help he needed — even after he set his mother's bed on fire when he was 3. They said he was prescribed medication for attention deficit disorder but his symptoms got worse, and as a result of his mother's neglect and father's abuse, Nelson never learned how to get along with others and not to hurt people.

Defense attorney Bill Ray said that while all of Nelson's decisions have been wrong, "the first ones that put him on a track for permanent derailment were beyond his control, and if that's not a mitigating factor, I don't know what is."