Man representing self in Lawrence child sex crime case files unorthodox motions as part of ‘bizarro defense’
Defendant accuses judge of political bias; also says his 'spidey sense is going berserk'
photo by: Kansas Department of Corrections
A man who allegedly attempted to solicit a young girl at a downtown Lawrence restaurant is back in the Douglas County Jail, more than four years after he was first booked there.
As his case continues, Jonathan Stephen Nelson is representing himself — a method that did not pan out in his favor when he appealed his previous sex crime conviction, but did earn him a compliment in a court opinion.
Nelson has filed well more than 100 pages of motions in the case, in which he comments on the politics of the court and the judge himself, asks for an expert to analyze “bogus” audio evidence because his “spidey sense is going berserk,” and “formally” challenges a former prosecutor to a fight, among other things.
“I officially proclaim my defense the ‘bizarro defense,'” Nelson writes in one motion. “In the bizarro world, up is down; down is up! But seriously, I think the Jury would like to hear all of (some audio recordings in the case), and my defense requires it all to be admitted.”
According to court records and previous Journal-World coverage, Nelson, now 46, was allegedly intoxicated the night of May 10, 2015. He was out to celebrate being released from parole for his 2010 conviction in Johnson County for exploitation of a child.
He allegedly grabbed a 10-year-old girl’s shoulder as he asked her to accompany him to the men’s room at Fuzzy’s Taco Shop, 1115 Massachusetts St. The girl’s mother intervened, then reported it to an employee of the restaurant, who called police.
Shortly thereafter, police reportedly found Nelson sitting at a table, uninvited, next to a grandmother and her grandson, making comments about that child — such as calling him “handsome” and a “fine-looking young man,” court documents say.
The case was set for trial, then later dismissed. But the dismissal was overturned, and at present, it is set to go to jury trial Dec. 2.
At Nelson’s preliminary hearing on Aug. 4, 2015, then-Douglas County District Court Chief Judge Robert Fairchild determined that enough evidence existed for the case to proceed, and he bound Nelson over for trial on a felony charge of aggravated indecent solicitation of a child.
Before the case could reach a jury trial, the defense moved to dismiss the case on grounds that the prosecutors had not proved which sex act Nelson had intended to commit in that men’s restroom and, therefore, could not show probable cause for the felony charge. Fairchild agreed and dismissed the charge in April 2016.
Prosecutors appealed, and the Kansas Court of Appeals overturned the dismissal in June 2017. The court determined that Nelson’s prior child sex crime conviction was relevant to the case. That predisposition, plus his alleged actions in the restaurant, were enough for the case to proceed.
“An adult man does not approach a young preteen girl he does not know, place his hand on her shoulder, put his face close to hers, invite her to join him in the men’s restroom, and then give a look indicating she should follow him without some nefarious intent,” the appeals court said in an unpublished opinion.
Fairchild has since retired. Nelson’s new trial will be held in the courtroom of Judge James McCabria.
‘Sophisticated and thorough’
In 2006, FBI and KBI agents questioned Nelson about his subscription to a website called “Little Virgins” and found images of nude children in sexually suggestive poses on his computer, leading to the Johnson County charge, according to the federal court documents.
Nelson admitted that he was sexually aroused by children, specifically girls between 12 and 15, the documents say. He also admitted to downloading around 200 images of children between the ages of 5 and 15, the Journal-World reported in November.
At a bench trial in 2010, Nelson was convicted of sexual exploitation of a child. He fought the results of that case, representing himself in the United States Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit.
Nelson described the pictures as “child erotica,” not child pornography, and had argued that they were protected under the First Amendment.
His fight was not successful, but in regards to representing himself, the court’s opinion noted, “Nelson’s arguments are sophisticated and thorough; he seems to need no assistance. Few attorneys could do it better, but most would be more succinct.”
Whether the Douglas County District Court concurs with that view in Nelson’s current case remains to be seen.
Representing himself again
In his current case, the defendant has filed several motions, comprising more than 130 pages, on his own behalf from the time he dismissed his appointed attorney in December.
Among them are “Motion for a Prop,” “Motion to Prevent a Foreign Object Entering My Mouth at Trial,” “Motion to Include Me in All Discussions Between State Actors and my Defense,” later followed by “Motion to Reiterate ‘Motion to Include Me in All Discussions Between State Actors and my Defense'”.
Throughout, Nelson’s motions are dotted with expressions that are atypical compared to most documents filed in court. For instance, in various places he uses smiling and winking face emojis. In other spots he uses hashtags — “#incontemptquestionmark”, “#bizarroprosecution”, “#jesusforgives” and “#nietzscheparaphrase”, among others — and some expletives.
He also frequently laments the limitations of Microsoft Word, such as in this parenthetical note: “Microsoft:!? who spells ‘soupcon’ without the mark?”
But in substance, much of Nelson’s writing may challenge a reader’s attempts to stay focused on the facts and evidence of the case.
Multiple times, he accuses the judge of being a “conservative activist judge,” and he writes that the “pervasive control by political activists” leads him to distrust the jury process in Lawrence — “Hence, I require this to be verified.”
Nelson also argues that those who are deemed “sex offenders” are treated differently: “Sex offenders truly are America’s leper,” he writes. He requests an expert on the subject and, hearkening back to where police reportedly found him at the table with the grandmother and grandson, he writes that others can call a child “handsome” or “cute,” but for sex offenders, “that is sexual talk.”
“I need an expert to explain that such treatment is outrageous,” he writes. He also contends that documentation in his Johnson County case is still inaccurate, and will be corrected before trial.
Additionally, he asks for an audio-visual expert to analyze any “possible irregularities” in recordings from the evening of his arrest — “My spidey sense is going berserk,” he writes of listening to one portion.
Regarding the “foreign object” Nelson wants to prevent from entering his mouth during trial, he writes that he will be respectful, shut up and sit when he is told to, but “There is no way … you can gag me.”
“The truth is that I don’t see any need for conflict here,” Nelson writes. “I mean, my tone is obviously conflictual but we’re talking about stuffing a sock in my mouth, for Christ’s sake. Literally: for Christ’s sake I beg.”
Nelson noted that he was carbon copying that motion to several media outlets. The Journal-World was not listed among them.
Motion for a prop
Nelson has motioned for the judge to allow him to purchase and use a Rubbermaid trash can in his defense — though he acknowledges the approach could backfire.
“Here is exactly what I wish to do, Your Honor: Every injustice (as I see it) will be pointed out at my trial,” Nelson writes. “I want to look at the jury and say this: ‘If you believe that you should have been able to [hear/see/witness] such and such then the judge doesn’t demean me … he demeans you, The Jury!’ and then I want to emphatically throw whatever paperwork at hand in the trash can and say, ‘Denied!’ That’s how I want to conduct my defense.”
Nelson writes that he’s willing to take the risk of it backfiring, and “There would be minimal inconvenience to the court. Again, I’ll pay for the trash can.”
In one of his latest motions, filed July 12, Nelson “formally” challenges former Senior Assistant District Attorney Mark Simpson, who prosecuted the case back in 2015, to a fight.
“I do it in a court filing so there’s no lying about ‘threat’ or whatever,” Nelson writes. “This is a challenge, not a threat. Again, we’ll make it legal. I know I’ve joked around a bit on these motions, but if you could see my eyes right now and feel what I feel, you’d know that I am NOT joking.”
The district attorney’s office declined to respond.
Gov. Laura Kelly selected Simpson July 19 to be a district judge.
The prosecutor has filed responses to some procedural motions Nelson filed on his own behalf — for instance, he had motioned to depose witnesses, which the prosecutor argued would only be necessary if there were concern of witnesses whose testimony is material being unable to attend trial.
Assistant District Attorney Alice Walker also responded to a motion to dismiss that Nelson filed on grounds that there was a lack of sufficient evidence presented at the preliminary hearing in the case. She writes that the argument was previously litigated and decided by the Court of Appeals.
In another motion, the prosecutor asks the court to prevent the defendant from speaking at trial about his belief that he was drugged by an officer the night of the police interview; prior legal rulings and his personal views on their appropriateness; his personal views of Simpson and the court; and “Any personal views, beliefs, or opinions of the defendant that are not relevant, material and admissible under the rules of evidence.”
Nelson is due in court next on Wednesday to schedule a motions hearing. At present, the case is scheduled to go to a weeklong jury trial beginning Dec. 2. The court has appointed Julia Butler as a standby attorney for him.
Nelson is currently being held in the Douglas County Jail on $100,000 bond. The Douglas County Sheriff’s Office declined to release Nelson’s most recent booking photo to the Journal-World.
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