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Montevideo, Minn., man gets life for killing co-worker

MONTEVIDEO — Darek Nelson, 25, will serve life in prison without the possibility of release for the fatal stabbing of Vinessa Lozano, 18, on Jan. 13, 2012, outside of the Pizza Ranch restaurant in Montevideo.

District Judge Dwayne Knutsen sentenced Nelson to the maximum sentence just moments after he entered a guilty plea Friday afternoon to first-degree murder, premeditated, in District Court in Montevideo. Nelson entered the plea as part of an agreement in which charges of second-degree murder, with intent, and two second-degree assault charges were dismissed.

Nelson was accused of inflicting 33 stab wounds on his co-worker after following her out of the restaurant at the end of her shift that night. He was apparently upset that she had rejected his interest in her.

“I guess I felt hurt, needed to do something about it,” he said while answering questions posed by the judge.

He said he began thinking about bringing a knife to work five days earlier, but testified he did not decide to do so until that day.

He had hidden the hunting knife in the pocket of his hooded sweatshirt with the intent of reaching a “verbal agreement” with Lozano, “but it went too far,” he testified.

He initially offered varied responses to questions by the court as to whether he intended to kill Lozano. He responded to a question of whether he thought she would die of the multiple wounds by stating: “It looked serious, but I am not a doctor.”

But after a recess, Nelson returned to the courtroom and admitted that at one point he had grabbed the knife away from Lozano — who had struggled to fend him off — and chased away a co-worker attempting to intervene, only to stab Lozano again. “Did you intend to kill her?” asked the judge. “Yes,” he responded, upon which the court accepted the guilty plea.

Over two dozen family members of the victim witnessed the plea, and also offered statements to the court about their suffering and memories of her. Lozano was the mother of a 1½-year-old son and planning to marry his father. She was working two part-time jobs and taking classes toward her goal of becoming a nurse.

In a statement read to the court, Jacob Janisch stated that the loss of his best friend and mother of his child changed him forever, but had not defeated him. “My choice is to live my life like she would have wanted me to.”

Lozano’s mother, Robin Savoy, told the court of her never-ending anguish. “My life is a battle, a struggle to survive.”

Nelson offered no comments after hearing his sentence. Defense attorney Greg Holmstrom called the events a “horrible tragedy for all concerned. My client deeply regrets what’s happened.”

Outside the court, Savoy and other family members said they wanted Nelson to receive the maximum sentence possible, but even so, they do not feel there is justice.

“You want him to get the max, you want him to get the worst punishment, but in a situation like ours there’s never going to be justice because he’s living a life, he gets to see his family,” said Savoy. “Vinessa never gets to see her son; her son will never see her.”

Speaking to the loss she feels, Savoy said: “It is going to take me a long time to get over the fact that there was nothing I could do to save my child.”

The family is hoping to raise funds for a scholarship in Lozano’s memory for a graduate of the Montevideo High School pursuing a career in medicine. The Montevideo High School graduation this year is June 2, what would have been Lozano’s 20th birthday, her mother noted.

Tom Cherveny

Tom Cherveny is a regional and outdoor reporter with the West Central Tribune in Willmar, MN.

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