Kansas City, Mo. Jurors on Wednesday sentenced to death a man who admitted kidnapping and killing a 10-year-old Kansas girl.
The federal jury of eight women and four men took less than two hours to decide the fate of Keith D. Nelson, 27, who pleaded guilty Oct. 25 in the death of Pamela Butler of Kansas City, Kan. The girl's mother, Cherri West, cried after the verdict was read.
"I am thrilled and so is she," West told reporters outside the courthouse as she held up a picture of Pamela. "For two years this is what I've been waiting for and what I've preached for the death penalty. And I wanted justice for Pamela and she got it. I know she's smiling and she's happy."
Nelson faced death or life in prison after pleading guilty to kidnapping Pamela from outside her home, taking her to Grain Valley, Mo., and strangling her with speaker wire. In return for his plea, prosecutors agreed to drop a second count alleging that he sexually assaulted the girl.
The jury's verdict is final and not subject to a judge's discretion.
Prosecutors argued that Nelson deserved death because the crime was premeditated, especially cruel and committed on a particularly vulnerable victim. Defense attorneys presented evidence that Nelson suffered a troubled childhood.
During the five-day penalty trial, two inmates testified that Nelson had described the crime to them, while acquaintances said on the stand Nelson repeatedly shared fantasies of sex, violence and murder.
Michanne Mattson, a former medical student at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, testified how Nelson used a knife and handcuffs as he tried to kidnap her from the parking lot of her apartment building. But she resisted, yelling and kicking at a nearby car, hoping to set off its security alarm.
Tuesday, the final day of evidence, jurors heard stories of Nelson's neglected childhood. Nelson's younger brother, Steven Nelson, described a home life so haphazard that he does not remember having had a toothbrush as a young child.
Psychologist Mark Cunningham testified that three of the five Nelson brothers were still suffering from their upbringing. The eldest brother, Johnny, is battling schizophrenia while he serves a 30-year prison sentence for murder in Texas. The youngest, Paul, also suffers from schizophrenia.
"It's not as if Keith stands alone in terms of problematic outcomes in this family," Cunningham said.