Keith Nelson: Death row inmate who raped and murdered 10-year-old was sexually abused as a child, says lawyer

Nelson, one among four death row inmates to be executed after 17 years, is scheduled to be executed on August 28


                            Keith Nelson: Death row inmate who raped and murdered 10-year-old was sexually abused as a child, says lawyer
Keith Dwayne Nelson (Wyandotte County Sheriff's Office)

Death row inmate Keith Dwayne Nelson, who kidnapped a 10-year-old girl in Texas, raped her and strangled her to death, has been scheduled to be executed on August 28, 2020. Nelson is amongst the four death row inmates to be executed after 17 years by the Justice Department, ever since the practice was halted after 2003. The new dates of execution, which were announced by the federal agency on June 15, begin mid-July.

Nelson, now 46, kidnapped 10-year-old Pamela Butler in 1999 when she was rollerblading near her house. He reportedly grabbed her, threw her in his pickup truck and escaped. Nelson's sister, Casey Eaton, witnessed the kidnapping and ran behind the truck at the time when a passerby noted down the license number after seeing her in distress. Days later, Pamela's body was found in a wooded area behind a church in Grain Valley. Autopsy results showed that the perpetrator had raped her and strangled her to death with a wire. A widely-publicized manhunt was launched for Nelson, who was linked to the crime scene two years later through his DNA. His arrest was broadcast on television in 2001. Years later, Eaton was also shot near the area Pamela was kidnapped from. 

Nelson, on October 25, 2001, pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Missouri to the kidnapping and unlawful interstate transportation of a child for the purpose of sexual abuse which resulted in death. He was subsequently sentenced to death. It was reported that Nelson, at his hearing, showed no remorse and unleashed a "profanity-laden tirade" in court.

Nelson had appealed against his arrest and death penalty in 2018. However, his appeal was rejected by the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. The court reportedly rejected Nelson's claims that his attorney had provided ineffective assistance.

His recent attorney, Dale Baich, in a statement to MEA WorldWide (MEAWW) on his scheduled execution also stated the same reasons, saying his trial has been "plagued by ineffective counsel" which committed crucial errors in the case.

"Keith Nelson was sentenced to death after a trial plagued by ineffective counsel that committed crucial errors and failed to conduct even the most basic investigation," Baich in a statement said. The attorney also added that Nelson experienced brain damage as a newborn and was a victim of physical and sexual abuse in his childhood.

"Because of his counsel's deficient performance, the jury never heard key evidence about the significant trauma and extreme neglect Mr Nelson experienced as child, including significant brain damage suffered as a newborn, repeated childhood sexual and physical abuse, and a multigenerational family history marked with severe mental illness," the lawyer said. "Mr Nelson's death sentence is the result of a proceeding that denied him constitutionally guaranteed protections and reveals another deep flaw in the federal death penalty system."

US Attorney General William P. Barr, in a press released on June 15, had stated: "The American people, acting through Congress and Presidents of both political parties, have long instructed that defendants convicted of the most heinous crimes should be subject to a sentence of death. We owe it to the victims of these horrific crimes, and to the families left behind, to carry forward the sentence imposed by our justice system."

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