FORT WORTH, Texas — The Rev. Clint Dobson was sitting in his church office writing a sermon when a convicted felon began scouring the neighborhood for a car to steal.
The felon honed in on the church, where investigators say he suffocated the young pastor and severely beat his secretary before fleeing in one of their cars.
New details of Steven Lawayne Nelson’s past – offenses that led up to what prosecutors called his most heinous crime – were revealed during a week-long hearing to decide Nelson’s fate following his conviction last week of killing Dobson. On Tuesday, jurors chose the death penalty.
“It is hard for me to fathom that you did what you did for a car and a laptop and a phone,” Dobson’s father-in-law, Phillip Rozeman, said in a statement after the sentencing. “The world is going to miss a leader. It’s sad to know all the people that won’t be helped because Clint is not here.”
Nelson suffocated Dobson, leaving him dead on the floor with a bag over his head and lying near his severely beaten secretary. Nelson had driven away in the secretary’s car, then later sold Dobson’s laptop and bought some items at a mall using the victims’ credit cards.
Jurors had the option of sentencing Nelson to life in prison without parole. For a death sentence, jurors had to unanimously agree that Nelson posed a danger to society, that he intended to kill and that there were no mitigating circumstances to diminish his culpability.
The 25-year-old Nelson showed no reaction as his sentence was read. He was later heard yelling after he was taken to a holding cell, where he broke a sprinkler head, causing flooding in the courtroom shortly after most people had left.
Three days before the murder, Nelson had been released from a court-ordered anger-management program, part of a deal with Dallas County prosecutors after he was arrested for aggravated assault on his girlfriend. He earlier had served time behind bars for a two-year sentence for theft, and spent much of his teen years in juvenile facilities after committing various crimes.
Dobson had taken a considerably different life path. The 28-year-old had done missionary work and had big plans for NorthPointe Baptist Church in Arlington, about 15 miles west of Dallas. The young minister was known by friends and relatives as a generous, helpful person who also had a fun-loving side.
His widow, Laura Dobson, said she will continue to be her husband’s voice and “be a reminder that good will always triumph evil.”
“I refuse to let you get the best of me,” she told Nelson in a victim impact statement after the sentence. “You have wrecked so many lives … that nobody will want to remember you after this.”
Nelson had denied killing the minister, blaming two friends for the crime. He said he stayed outside and only came into the church to steal a laptop. He admitted stepping around Dobson and the secretary on the floor to get the laptop, but said they were still alive when he was there.
Blood from both victims was found on a pair of Nelson’s shoes, and studs from his belt were found at the church, according to testimony. Prosecutor Bob Gill said Nelson’s violence didn’t stop as he awaited his murder trial, and that he fatally strangling an inmate with a blanket. Nelson hasn’t been charged in that death.
“Now you know why the state decided to seek the death penalty,” Gill told jurors. “That’s all that can be done here. It could not be more clear.”
Defense attorneys asked jurors to spare Nelson’s life, saying his mother neglected him, his father abused him and he was prescribed medication for attention deficit disorder. But Nelson never got the help he needed, even after he set his mother’s bed on fire when he was 3, and never learned how to get along with others and not hurt people.
Referring to Nelson’s childhood, defense attorney Bill Ray said the initial decisions “that put him on a track for permanent derailment were beyond his control, and if that’s not a mitigating factor, I don’t know what is.”