Court denies Nelson petition
MONTEVIDEO -- A district judge has denied Darek Nelson's petition to withdraw his guilty plea to first-degree, premeditated murder in the fatal stabbing of his co-worker more than three years ago in Montevideo.
MONTEVIDEO - A district judge has denied Darek Nelson’s petition to withdraw his guilty plea to first-degree, premeditated murder in the fatal stabbing of his co-worker more than three years ago in Montevideo.
Nelson, 27, is serving a sentence of life without the possibility of parole for the Jan. 13, 2012, murder of Vinessa Lozano, 18, of Montevideo. Upset that she had rejected his interest in him, Nelson admitted to following her out of the Pizza Ranch restaurant that night and repeatedly stabbing her with a large, survivor-style knife he had concealed in his hooded sweatshirt while at work. In a petition seeking to withdraw his plea to premeditated murder, Nelson had argued that his court-appointed attorney had instructed him to answer “yes’’ to the judge’s questions when he pleaded guilty on Jan. 18, 2013. He alleged that his attorney instructed him to do so during a private conference held during a break in the proceedings.
The petition also cited Nelson’s diagnosis of Asperger’s syndrome and questioned his ability to understand the proceedings against him. The petition was filed by attorney Chang Ying Lau with the Minnesota Public Defender’s office in St. Paul.
District Judge Dwayne Knutsen accepted Nelson’s guilty plea to the murder charge. He also issued the order on June 11 denying the recent petition.
In his order, Judge Knutsen found that Nelson’s guilty plea to the premeditated charge was accurate, intelligent and voluntary.
The judge rejected Nelson’s claims that he was following the instructions of his attorney when answering “yes.’’ In a memorandum accompanying the order, the judge stated that Nelson “has not offered any evidence to refute the testimony of his trial attorney, Mr. (Greg) Holmstrom, that during the conference with the petitioner, Mr. Holmstrom told petitioner that if petitioner wanted to plead guilty, he would have to put forth sufficient facts to support the plea, and it was petitioner’s decision whether or not he wished to go forward with the plea.’’
The judge had also found that two independent evaluations by medical doctors had determined Nelson was able to understand the proceedings. One of the mental health specialists concluded that Nelson ‘’knew what he was doing was both morally and legally wrong.’’ The court had twice found Nelson competent to stand trial.
Nelson had initially confessed to his intent when interviewed after the stabbing by Montevideo Police Sergeant Ken Schule. He told the officer that he had thought about it for days prior and purposely brought the knife to work. Asked by Sgt. Schule if he knew what he was going to do when he followed her out of the restaurant where they worked, Nelson answered: “Yeah, at that point.’’
In court on the day he pleaded guilty, Nelson initially offered varied responses to questions by the court as to whether he intended to kill Lozano.
After the conference with his attorney, Nelson returned to the courtroom and admitted he took the knife away from Lozano as she struggled and chased away a co-worker attempting to rescue her. He continued to stab her.
”Did you intend to kill her?’’ asked Judge Knutsen. “Yes,’’ he responded, at which point the judge accepted the guilty plea.