Just minutes after receiving the death penalty for the brutal slaying of an Arlington pastor, convicted killer Steven Lawayne Nelson flew into a fit of rage Tuesday, breaking a fire sprinkler in his holding cell and sending black water flooding into the courtroom.
Surrounded by heavy security during the 12-day trial, Nelson had sat quietly as a jury in state District Judge Mike Thomas' court handed down the death sentence in one of the highest-profile cases in Tarrant County in years.
Nelson was convicted last week of capital murder in the death of Clint Dobson, 28, the pastor of NorthPointe Baptist Church in Arlington. Dobson was beaten, bound and suffocated with a plastic bag during a robbery of the church on March 3, 2011. Church secretary Judy Elliott was severely beaten and left for dead but survived.
Shortly after Nelson received the death sentence and was led away by sheriff's deputies, the sound of spraying water erupted from the holding cell behind Criminal District Court No. 4 and water poured into the courtroom.
Nelson could be heard screaming and howling from his cell as court personnel scurried to pick up boxes of evidence before they got wet. The water, infused with a fire retardant, sent a chemical smell throughout the courtroom and deputies quickly evacuated bystanders after the trial ended.
"We will probably never see another one like this one if we live 100 years," the judge said later outside the courtroom.
The rampage was just the latest in a string of violent, destructive acts by Nelson in the Tarrant County Jail since he was arrested on March 5, 2011.
Nelson has repeatedly flooded cells, created mayhem and fought with jailers, and he is accused of using a jail blanket to strangle a mentally ill inmate who was placed on the cellblock with him this year.
'Good and evil'
Before the outburst, Dobson's widow, Laura Dobson, confronted Nelson in a victim impact statement after the sentencing.
"No one wants to remember you," she told Nelson, "but they will always remember Clint. ... I vow to be his voice and carry on his legacy, that good will always trump evil."
Laura Dobson's father, cardiologist Phillip Rozeman of Shreveport, told Nelson that the killing of Clint Dobson was "a cosmic collision of good and evil," but he vowed that they will rebuild their lives.
"We know that Clint is in heaven asking God all the questions he always wanted to ask," he said.
Clint Dobson's parents, Rod and Sharon Dobson, also spoke to Nelson about their son and his good deeds, and Sharon Dobson read the epitaph on her son's grave.
"He was generous of heart, constant of faith and joyful of spirit," she said. "I wish you could have known him."
The Rev. Dennis R. Wiles, pastor of NorthPointe's parent church, First Baptist Church of Arlington, issued a statement on the church's behalf after the sentencing.
"We have all waited for this day," the statement said. "We have asked God for the truth to be known and for justice to be served. ... We also want our community to know that Clint Dobson did not die in vain. His life was given courageously in service to the Lord Jesus Christ."
Nelson's mother and other relatives testified in his behalf Monday but did not return to court for the sentencing Tuesday.
'Nothing left to lose'
During closing arguments, prosecutors Bob Gill and Page Simpson had urged jurors to give Nelson the death penalty with a prescient nod to the trouble he has caused while awaiting trial.
"It's like he wanted to violate the conscience of this community," Gill said. "If you think he was hell on wheels in the Tarrant County Jail while awaiting trial, think what he'll be like in prison ... with nothing left to lose."
Nelson, 25, of Arlington, had an extensive criminal history that began when he set fire to his mother's bed when he was just 3 years old. He had spent years in juvenile facilities in Oklahoma and was sent to juvenile facilities in Texas after his mother moved here for a job.
He had been released from a court-ordered anger management class just a few days before Dobson was killed, and he had a long history of burglary, criminal mischief, car theft and assault. He described himself as a "monster" during texts to a young woman he was courting, and on the day after the killings, he spent hours partying in a Dallas nightclub with a cross-dressing male lover, witnesses told jurors.
Defense attorneys Bill Ray and Steve Gordon had urged jurors to hand down life without parole, arguing that Nelson was abandoned psychologically as a child and didn't get the help he needed. His mother, Kathy James, told jurors that Nelson's father was an abusive alcoholic who didn't visit his son, but James also appeared sketchy about some of the details of Nelson's life.
"We ask that you spare his life," Gordon said.
The defense's own expert psychologist, however, admitted under questioning that Nelson was a dangerous psychopath who was beyond repair.
Jurors deliberated about 90 minutes on Tuesday before handing Nelson the death sentence. He will be held briefly in the Tarrant County Jail until he can be sent to Death Row.
Terry Grisham, spokesman for Sheriff Dee Anderson, said the county has no plans to modify sprinkler heads in the jail or courthouse. He said that they meet standards and that upgrading them would be a needless expense for taxpayers. Many inmates know how to break the sprinkler heads, but it happens only occasionally.
"A child can do it," he said. "But we move literally hundreds and hundreds of people through those cells each week without problems. ... We're not going to change anything because a person who now has nothing to live for continues to call attention to himself."
Staff writer Bill Miller contributed to this report.
Dianna Hunt, 817-390-7084
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