Judge rescinds plea bargain, moving to jury trial in Valentine's Day shooting case

Denzel Nelson, suspect in Valentines Day shooting

Judge Randy Williams of Superior Court 1 has rescinded the plea bargain originally accepted by Denzel Nelson.

Posted: Aug 21, 2020 1:36 PM
Updated: Aug 21, 2020 2:14 PM

LAFAYETTE, Ind. (WLFI) - Judge Randy Williams of Superior Court 1 has rescinded the plea bargain originally accepted by Denzel Nelson. Nelson is accused of shooting a man, causing serious injury, in an incident that happened on February 14th, 2020. He was supposed to be sentenced on Friday.

As we previously reported, police responded to the Briarwood Apartments in the afternoon of Valentine's Day. A man was air lifted to an Indianapolis hospital with serious, but non-life threatening injuries. 

Nelson originally faced eight charges: attempted murder, aggravated battery, battery by means of a deadly weapon, battery resulting in serious bodily injury, possession of a firearm by a serious violent felon, caring a handgun without a license, unlawful use of a firearm and a habitual offender enhancement.

Nelson's plea bargain, accepted on June 19th, dropped six of the eight charges, leaving only attempted murder and the habitual offender enhancement. Nelson confirmed to Judge Williams at the beginning of the sentencing hearing that he understood the plea bargain.

The defense began its argument for mitigators saying that they acknowledged the seriousness of this crime. They said Nelson is the father of three children, all of whom will be of adult age by the time he were to be released if given the minimum sentence of 26 years. The attorney pointed out that Mr. Nelson had pled guilty quickly in this case, saving the victim and others involved from having to testify before the court. Lastly he made the argument that this was an isolated incident, that Nelson had learned his lesson and that he wouldn't be back in front of the court again. The defense asked for the minimum of 26 years.

The state made its arguments for aggrigators next. They started on the state of the victim, Bryce Smith. First responders had concern of Smith being paralyzed when he was first being treated. He had five gunshot wounds and will most likely have to live the rest of his life with a bullet in his spine. They argued while he is thankfully still alive today, his quality of life will be diminished.

The state said multiple witness accounts say Nelson continued to shoot at Smith until he fell to the ground and then walked away. Police recovered two guns from Nelson's residence when he was arrested. One of those guns matched the casings found at the scene, and that same gun's magazine had been fully reloaded.

The state argued that previous attempts at rehabilitation have failed. They said three of his four prior convictions had been violent and he had spent six years in the Department of Corrections, being released in 2018. They said this shooting happened in a residential apartment complex that had multiple families with children inside at the time.

The state said there was a lack of a remorse and a high degree of seriousness of this crime. They said based on Nelson's actions, he had wanted for this to be a murder case, however it is not thanks to the swift actions of first responders. The state asked for the maximum of 48 years.

Judge Williams then asked Mr. Nelson if he wanted to respond to the state's arguments, and he did want to. In a passionate tone of voice, he admitted that he has a rough background but that he had not intended to kill Mr. Smith that day. He said Smith was abusing his sister in front of her children. He claimed there were visible choking marks on her neck and rug burns on her back. He said he wanted to tell Smith to stay away from his sister. He said Smith insinuated that he wanted to fight first, said Smith followed him, reaching for something in his waistband. He said he shot at Smith in self-defense.

After a few minutes of letting Mr. Nelson talk, Judge Williams cut him off, rescinding the plea bargain. He said it is clear that Mr. Nelson wished to raise certain defenses before the court. He put the case back on track for a jury trial, setting a date for December 15th.

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