FORT WORTH, Texas — A convicted felon was sentenced to death Tuesday for killing a pastor and severely beating the pastor's secretary during a robbery in their North Texas church.
A jury in Fort Worth deliberated for a little more than an hour before deciding the sentence for Steven Lawayne Nelson, 25. He was convicted last week of killing the Rev. Clint Dobson at the NorthPointe Baptist Church in nearby Arlington.
Jurors had the option of sentencing Nelson to death or life in prison without parole. For a death sentence, jurors had to 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.
Nelson remained seated as the sentence was read because he is handcuffed and wearing leg shackles. He showed no reaction when the judge read his sentence.
The pastor's widow, Laura Dobson, said her husband was a smart, kind and funny man who will be recalled with fondness by many — unlike Nelson.
"I refuse to let you get the best of me," she said in a victim impact statement after the sentence. "You have wrecked so many lives ... that nobody will want to remember you after this."
Nelson was convicted of suffocating Dobson in March 2011. He also beat the church secretary, Judy Elliott, so severely that she suffered a broken jaw and memory problems. He then stole her car and other items. It took the jury little more than an hour to find him guilty.
Phillip Rozeman, Laura Dobson's father, said he couldn't believe the reasoning behind the loss of his son-in-law's life.
"It is hard for me to fathom that you did what you did for a car and a laptop and a phone," Rozeman said in his victim impact statement.
In closing arguments Tuesday, prosecutors called the crime heinous and vicious.
Blood from both victims was found on a pair of Nelson's shoes, and studs from his belt were found at the church, according to testimony.
Nelson denied killing the minister, blaming two friends for the crime. He said he stayed outside and only came into the church to steal a laptop.
He said at trial that he saw the 28-year-old Dobson and his secretary already sprawled on the church floor. He admitted stepping around them to get the laptop, but said they were still alive when he was there.
Prosecutor Bob Gill said during closing arguments Tuesday that Nelson had committed crimes since he was a young teen and that he has been given many chances to rehabilitate in juvenile facilities.
"The consequences have not straightened him out," Gill said.
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.
"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 had a troubled childhood. His mother neglected him, his father abused him and he was prescribed medication for attention deficit disorder. But Nelson never got the help he needed — even after he set his mother's bed on fire when he was 3 — never learned how to get along with others and not hurt people.
Referring to Nelson's childhood, defense attorney Bill Ray said the initial decisions "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."
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