Jury Convicts Steven Lawayne Nelson of Arlington Pastor's Murder

Categories: Cover Story, Crime

steven nelson.jpg
Tarrant County Sheriff's Office
Steven Lawayne Nelson, photographed in a Tarrant County jail, following a fistfight with deputies.
Steven Lawayne Nelson was found guilty Monday morning in the slaying of Clint Dobson, a 28-year-old pastor who was discovered in Arlington's NorthPointe Baptist with a plastic bag clinging to his face. Investigators say Nelson wielded a Daisy air pistol during the March 2011 robbery that ended in Dobson's murder. The pastor was severely beaten with some blunt object, but he died of suffocation.

His assistant, Judy Elliott, 67, was bludgeoned half to death; her husband was unable to recognize her at first. Nelson, 25, stole a laptop from the office, along with credit cards and Elliott's Mitsubishi Galant. He later sent a text message to a friend that read, "I did some shit the other day, cuz. I fucked up, cuz. Real bad," according to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Whether he was expressing guilt or fear of arrest, it didn't stop him from hitting The Parks at Arlington mall with the stolen cards. Cashiers later identified him.

Nelson swore on the stand that two accomplices did all the killing, but the blood spatters found on his counterfeit Air Jordan's, the print the sole left behind, and the testimony of the man who bought the stolen laptop said otherwise. It took the jury just over an hour to reach a guilty verdict, according to Star-Telegram reporter Dianne Hunt's tweets. Now comes the penalty phase, where prosecutors will seek death.

It's likely that Nelson will then come face-to-face with two women he does not know. Sharon Bristow, and her sister, Jennifer Ciravolo, may take the stand. Their brother, Jonathan Holden, a paranoid schizophrenic who was never able to care for himself, wandered away from Ciravolo's North Richland Hills home in early March of this year. They had argued over his hygiene and Holden stormed off, saying he was bound for Oklahoma to see his girlfriend. Instead, he found himself lost that night in Westlake. Holden was picked up by police after stealing food from a hotel cafeteria and breaking into a parked car, probably for warmth. He ended up in the same pod as Nelson in Fort Worth's high-risk Belknap Unit.

They occupied the opposite ends of a continuum. Nelson had a history of violence, committing felonies by his early teens. Holden was harmless, more likely to become the victim than the perpetrator. But both took the same psychotropic drug used to treat bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.

It was in jail, investigators believe, that their paths finally crossed. After only two weeks spent locked up, mostly in suicide prevention cells, Holden was discovered by jailers hanging from a blanket tied around the bars of his cell. At first it was written off as suicide, but a medical examiner later classified his death as a homicide. Nelson is the Tarrant County Sheriff's Office's main suspect. Holden's family says investigators told them Nelson's DNA was found beneath Holden's fingernails (his sad story was chronicled in a recent feature story). No charges have been filed in Holden's case.

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