A judge heard closing arguments in the Robert Nelson murder trial in Skowhegan Tuesday morning.
The 41-year-old Anson man is accused of killing 60-year-old Everett Cameron. According to testimony earlier in the trial, Cameron, who was diagnosed with non-Hodgkins lymphoma 7 years before his death, was selling his prescription medication to people in the community, including Robert Nelson. "The issue before the court is who. Who caused the death of Everett Cameron?" Assistant Attorney General Leane Zainea said during her closing arguments.
Prosecutors have spent six days trying to prove the answer to that question is Robert Nelson. Tuesday, Zainea had one last chance to connect the dots of her case, a case she admits lacks physical evidence tying Nelson to the murder. The state has no murder weapon, no confession, and no DNA evidence.
Zania argued the lack of DNA evidence actually proves Nelson is lying about having been inside Cameron's truck the day he was murdered. "Yet when areas within the truck were tested for DNA, the defendant was excluded as a potential donor. That absence of evidence is meaningful because it tells us that the defendant never got in Everett's truck. Instead, he stood by the driver's side door and talked to Everett through the open window."
Authorities say that position near the driver's side window is consistent with where the shooter stood. "The trajectory, or path, of the bullet was described by Dr. Greenwald (Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Margaret Greenwald) as front to back, left to right. Whoever shot Everett Cameron did so while standing outside the truck as he faced to look at them."
Nelson has admitted to meeting with the victim at 2:00. Prosecutors say the fatal shot was fired at 2:15 and was heard by a man who lives nearby. Nelson says he left Cameron before 2:15 and it's simply bad luck that he was in the "wrong place at the wrong time."
Prosecutors aren't buying Nelson's story, saying it's simply too many coincidences. "All of the stars and all of the moons had to have been perfectly aligned for that kind of bad luck to fall on the defendant," Zania said. "But common sense and reason tells you that when a person is standing by a victim's car shortly before a gun shot is heard in the vicinity, then that person had something to do with that gunshot."
But defense attorneys argue that to conclude Nelson fired that shot takes some degree of speculation. During his closing arguments, defense attorney Philip Mohlar claimed police zeroed in on Nelson and ignored other suspects. "I think the state did have blinders on as they investigated this matter," Mohlar told the judge. "More importantly, Judge, I'm going to suggest to the court that they're asking you to put blinders on as you look at the evidence. To look at the evidence as they have from day one. Which is to presume Rob Nelson guilty."
Prosecutors have tried to paint a picture of Nelson as a drug addict who was so desperate for drugs that he killed for them. Nelson's testimony on the stand Monday contradicted that portrayal. He testified to having plenty of drugs on him in the days leading up to and the day of the murder. He claims to have been drinking and doing drugs the entire day and was not in a mad search for a fix as prosecutors contend.
While the prosecution is asking the judge to use common sense and reason when he makes his decision, defense attorneys want the judge to remember that it's the prosecution who carries the burden of proof. That's a burden the defense contends they have yet to meet. "This is where we're asking the court presume Mr. Nelson innocent," Mohlar said. "It fits. What he's talking about fits. He's an innocent man. The state is saying somehow twist these facts and arrive at the same conclusion we did."
Nelson waived his right to a jury trial. The case will be decided by Judge John Nivison. "While I know the parties and those who have followed the case are anxious for a decision given the length of the trial and the importance of the case, I trust everyone understands that it warrants me taking some time to review that evidence and to conduct those deliberations," Nivison said. He expects to render his verdict in the next few weeks.
If convicted, Nelson faces 25 years to life behind bars.
Accused Murderer Robert Nelson Takes Stand - Closing Arguments Set For Tuesday