LAFAYETTE, Ind. (WLFI) - Denzel Nelson will serve 40 years for shooting another man. As we previously reported, police responded to the Briarwood Apartments in the afternoon on February 14th of this year. They found a man with five gunshot wounds.
Nelson was arrested for the crime on February 22nd. He originally faced eight charges, but took a guilty plea agreement to only attempted murder and being a habitual offender.
“The last two times you’ve been here, it hasn’t ended well,” said Judge Williams to start the hearing. “Hopefully the third time's the charm.”
Nelson replied that he knows the judge is probably tired of seeing him, but Judge Williams assured him that this is job and is why he is here.
This is the second time Nelson pled guilty to the crime. He was originally supposed to be sentenced in August with a guilty plea agreement, however Nelson used his time to speak to defend himself and not accept responsibility for his actions. Judge Williams rescinded the plea agreement then and put the case back on course for a jury trial. However, Nelson again accepted a plea agreement in September.
In court on Monday, it was clear Nelson had changed his tune completely. There was no one in the courtroom aside from the judge, the attorneys and the defendant.
The defense only called on Nelson as testimony. In an articulate and confident tone, Nelson confirmed that he had completed five courses during his time in the Tippecanoe County Jail. The courses were in anger management, skilled education, basic education, presentation skills and behavior change. He also confirmed that he has had no write-ups and no problems with any officers during his time at the jail.
He told the court he has six children all under the age of 10. He said he wants to be involved with his children. He said his own father was absent because he was in prison, so he knows the impact of growing up without a father present.
He said he made a costly mistake, but that he is doing everything he can to stay out of trouble so he can get back to them quickly. He said he wishes he could take back what happened on December 14th. Back in August, Nelson claimed he shot in self defense after he saw the victim reach for his waistband. He confidently told the judge he was not scared for his life at the time and that he did not see any weapon on the victim. He said he takes full responsibility.
He apologized to the victim and said he hopes he is able to get through what happened. He said he wasn’t there to justify his actions and that he wouldn’t wish what happened to the victim on anybody.
“I was wrong,” he said clearly to the court.
His attorney then asked him about his plans for the future. Nelson said he was working at SIA at the time of the shooting. He said he wants to get back to finding a job, he wants to mend his relationship with his kids and said upon being released for probation, he wants to move closer to his kids, who live in Illinois.
He apologized to his kids, saying he is now doing exactly what his father did to him. But he said he keeps in constant communication with his kids. His tone wavered as he talked about his phone conversations with his kids. He said he doesn’t want his kids to hate him. He said he knows he made a costly mistake, but he begged Judge Williams to consider his children when deciding his sentence length. He said he wants to be there to teach them about how to stay on the right path in life.
He said he is in a good place at this time and that he accepts what has happened. He joked that while sometimes he talks to much, he said talking has always been a strength of his. He said he talks with the younger people in the jail, encouraging them to do better in life. He mentioned one specific younger person who left the jail on Friday who he said he mentored.
“I told him I better not see you back here,” he told the court. “Don’t be like me when you are 30.”
He said he wants the chance to change and be a productive person.
The state had no new evidence to present or any witnesses to call to the stand.
The defense began its closing arguments. Nelson’s attorney said he did not believe that Nelson is the worst person to have gone before Judge Williams. He said his client has taken responsibility and is ready to do his time. He urged the court to make him serve his time, get out and show what he can do and allow him to be part of his children’s life. He finished by emphasizing that Nelson has taken advantage of his time in the jail in a positive way, especially with the anger management course.
He asked the court for 20 years on his attempted murder charge and six years for the habitual offender enhancement. He acknowledged that he was asking a lot with this low of a sentence. But he felt the mitigators outweighed the aggravators and that Nelson has learned from his mistakes.
The state then took its opportunity to argue aggravators. The state attorney acknowledged Nelson’s change of heart. She said she was taken aback by how aware Nelson is of the circumstances and gravity of the situation. She felt he was now aware of his actions and the repercussions that needed to follow. She said there was definitely lack of remorse from Nelson before, but now he acknowledged the damage done to the victim.
She moved on to point out that previous attempts at rehabilitation had failed. Three out of Nelson’s four adult crimes were violent and he had spent six years in the DOC only to be going right back.
She said this crime happened in a residential apartment complex with families and children nearby. She said the harm, injury and loss of the victim was significant. The victim had five gunshot wounds and the gun had been fired 12 times. The first shot alone could have been enough, she argued, but he kept shooting.
She said the victim has been in contact with the prosecutor’s office. She said he is making progress, but still has a long way to go. First responders were very worried he would be paralyzed from the waist down. He will have to live with a bullet lodged in his spine for the rest of his life. While he is lucky to be living, she said, his quality of life is diminished. She said the reason he has never testified and didn’t show up on Monday is because he just wants to move on with his life and get back on the right track.
She said this would be a murder case if not for the swift actions of law enforcement and medics who were called to the scene that afternoon. She said Nelson only stopped shooting once he saw the victim on the ground, thinking he was dead. She said she acknowledged Nelson now wants to do better, but his past can’t be ignored.
She asked the judge for 38 years for the attempted murder charge and seven years for the habitual offender enhancement.
Nelson took advantage of his last opportunity to speak to Judge Williams. He again apologized for what he did to the victim. He asked the court if his children and mother could have access to any money he had in his bank accounts. He said his mother takes care of his oldest son and she is in her late 40’s. Nelson had concern that something might happen to her and that her son will have no one to take care of him if he is in jail for a long time. He apologized again and thanked the court for listening to him.
Judge Williams began his out loud thought process of deciding the sentence length. He said shooting someone 12 times with a handgun in close range is personal. Attempting to take someone’s life is very serious, he said. Being able to hit someone five out 10 times with bullets is very serious, he said. He pointed out that Nelson shouldn’t have had a gun in the first place. Nelson was originally charged with carrying a handgun without a license and possession of a firearm by a serious felon. Both charges were dropped as part of the plea agreement.
He gave credit to Nelson for how well he spoke, saying it is clear that he is intelligent. He just wished that Nelson had put his intelligence to better use. Despite it taking a few tries to get to the sentencing hearing, he acknowledged that Nelson did plea guilty.
He acknowledged Nelson’s exemplary behavior at the jail. He said now it is all on Nelson to continue this path of good behavior in the DOC that could ultimately change his fate. Nelson, like most people, will most likely make a motion to modify his sentence when the time comes. Judge Williams said the first thing the future judge will look at is his behavior record in prison when deciding if he should be released early.
He said it is sad that Nelson’s father did the same thing to him that he is now doing to his own children. However, he did commend Nelson for living a substance-free life for the most part.
For aggravators, he said Nelson does have a criminal history. He acknowledged the losses and damages to the victim. Judge Williams used the word “miraculous” to describe the fact that the victim is still alive. He also agreed with the state that previous attempts at rehabilitation have failed.
Judge Williams had to pause for several seconds. He said he just couldn’t get past the fact that there were 12 shots fired. He said someone was shot, meaning there was clear intent, and the punishment has to fit the crime.
“This is a tough one,” he said quietly as he continued to take time thinking. “One centimeter over and this could all be different.” He said this referring to the victim’s wounds.
He finally came to the conclusion that Nelson will serve 32 years for the attempted murder charge and eight years for the habitual offender enhancement for a total of 40 years. He decided 35 years will be spent in the DOC and five years on probation. Nelson is currently 30-years-old.
“Do what you said you will do,” said Judge Williams. “And good luck to you.”
Nelson thanked the judge, spoke to his attorney and was escorted out by the courthouse jail staff. Nelson’s attorney said his client does not plan to appeal the sentence.