ARIZONA – Death penalty upheld in Ariz. teen’s killing

april 13, 2012 source :

The Arizona Supreme Court on Thursday upheld the conviction and death sentence of a man found guilty of fatally bludgeoning his 14-year-old niece whose semi-nude body was found while her mother was in the hospital.

Brad Lee Nelson of Golden Valley had appealed his sentence to the court, arguing that he didn’t have an impartial trial jury, that the killing wasn’t premeditated and that putting him to death would be cruel and unusual punishment.

The 41-year-old was convicted of first-degree murder in the June 2006 killing of 14-year-old Amber Graff.

Records show that Nelson was watching Graff and her 13-year-old brother Wade at a hotel in Kingman in western Arizona while their mother was in the hospital being treated for Crohn’s disease.

Prosecutors say that Nelson walked from the hotel to a Kmart, bought a rubber mallet, came back and hit Amber in the head with it multiple times as Wade slept.

Prosecutors say that after hitting her with the mallet, Nelson covered up her body and soon after spent the morning with Wade going to a couple of stores and hanging out by the pool. When they returned to the hotel room, Nelson told Amber to wake up and pulled the covers from her.

Her body was blue and naked from the waist down, her forehead was covered in blood, and blood and foam were coming out of her mouth. Semen later found on her groin area matched Nelson, although there was no evidence that Amber was raped.

The rubber mallet was found in a bloody black sock under the bed.

Amber’s stepfather later gave investigators a letter from Nelson to Amber that proclaimed his love for her and promised to never hurt her.

Defense attorneys had argued that Nelson didn’t mean to kill the girl while the prosecution argued that his trip to Kmart to buy the mallet and his efforts to cover up the crime proved it was premeditated murder.

Prosecutors also theorized at trial that Nelson came on to Amber and she denied him, provoking him enough to kill her.

“It was pretty clear it was sexually motivated,” Mohave County Attorney Matt Smith, who prosecuted the case against Nelson, said Thursday. “I don’t see anything accidental about any of it.”

In their ruling Thursday, the Arizona Supreme Court rejected multiple arguments from Nelson’s attorney that sought to have his death sentence overturned, including that the jury’s finding that Nelson was eligible for the death penalty because Amber was under the age of 15 is “arbitrary and capricious.”

Under Arizona law, a number of so-called aggravating factors make someone convicted of first-degree murder eligible to be executed, including that the murder victim is under the age of 15. Amber was two months away from turning 15 when she was killed.

Nelson’s attorney, David Goldberg, argued that the state doesn’t have a compelling or rational basis to execute someone who kills a child who is 14 years and 10 months old as opposed to someone who has turned 15.

The court ruled that the Arizona Legislature set the age at 15 after determining that the young are especially vulnerable, should be afforded more protection and that murders of the sort should carry more severe punishments.


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