Nelson guilty of 1st-degree murder

Jury takes less than an hour to return verdict in death penalty case

Brad Nelson

Brad Nelson

KINGMAN - The day 14-year-old Amber Graff was killed, her mother was supposed to be discharged from the hospital.

County Attorney Matt Smith said that morning in 2006 provided the last chance for Amber's uncle, 39-year-old Brad Lee Nelson, to be with her.

Nelson had already expressed a romantic interest in the girl, writing her a letter in which he told her he was running away from his feelings for her.

The defense disputed that Nelson meant to kill the girl, citing that same letter, written nine months before the murder, in which Nelson told Amber, "Don't fere (sic) me."

Nelson's lawyer, Lee Novak, one of two attorneys representing the murder suspect, said the letter indicated Nelson's "unnatural interest" in his niece, but also showed that he wouldn't hurt her.

A jury didn't buy that argument, and Thursday, in less than an hour, the panel of 11 women and one man found Nelson guilty of premeditated first-degree murder.

The jury could have found Nelson guilty of second-degree murder or not guilty entirely. Smith said Nelson's purchase of a rubber mallet at 7:36 a.m. the morning Amber was killed was all the proof of intent the jury needed. Amber is believed to have been killed some time between 7:45 a.m. and 8:20 a.m. June 9, 2006.

Amber was found by her brother and Nelson in the bed of a hotel room the trio had been sharing on Andy Devine Avenue. A housekeeper Nelson brought to the room to give a bottle of alcohol was also present when Amber was found.

The medical examiner said Amber died of blunt force trauma to the head, although the prosecution said it could not prove how many times she had been struck.

"At least two, probably four," Smith said.

During his closing arguments, Smith presented a timeline of Nelson's actions the morning of the murder. Nelson had been babysitting Amber and her 13-year-old brother for several days while their mother, Nelson's half-sister, was in the hospital for Crohn's disease.

Amber was last seen alive by her brother when she opened the door of their hotel room to let Nelson in just after 6 a.m. Nelson made several trips to the store that morning, once alone to buy the rubber mallet, and later that morning with Amber's brother to buy a new shirt and return a sleeping bag which was later found to contain Amber's blood.

Amber's brother is believed to have been asleep at the time his sister was killed. Smith said Nelson brought Amber's brother along to the store to establish an alibi. Nelson did not testify at the trial.

A count of child molestation was dismissed by Judge Richard Weiss after a request for review by the defense during the course of the trial. Nelson's semen had been found on the girl, although there was no evidence of penetration. The defense had previously argued the semen could have been transferred by a sheet or a towel.

The defense contended that had the murder been premeditated, Nelson would have covered his tracks better. "The who-done-it was never in question," Novak told the jury, "but the why and the how, can you honestly say that's been proven?"

The state is seeking the death penalty. The sentencing phase of the trial will begin Dec. 2.