Date of Sentence: 03/17/00
Circumstances of the Offense:
In the early morning hours of
11/17/97, Micah Nelson broke into Virginia Brace’s home through the
bathroom window. Brace, who was 78-years-old, was lying asleep in her
bedroom. Her hearing aid and glasses were removed.
Upon hearing the
intruder, Brace woke up screaming and a struggle ensued between the
two. Nelson sexually assaulted Brace and then forced her into the trunk
of her car.
Nelson drove around in the car for several hours and
eventually stopped in an orange grove where the car became stuck in soft
At 9:30 a.m., heavy equipment
operator, Steven Weir, arrived to assist in removing the car from the
sand. Weir testified that, as he was pulling the car out, Nelson acted
nervous and unusual. While Weir was hooking up the car to be towed, he
felt a thud come from the trunk. Nelson explained that he had a dog back
there and turned up the volume of the car radio to drown out the noise.
As soon as the car was removed from the sand, Nelson sped off.
Nelson then took Brace to
another orange grove where he let her out of the trunk and dragged her
175 feet into the grove. He then attempted to strangle Grace. When this
attempt failed, he emptied a fire extinguisher into her mouth and forced
a tire iron into her mouth and through the back of her head.
On the afternoon of 11/17/97,
Joann Lambert noticed Brace’s car parked near her house. She did not
recognize the car and became suspicious later in the evening when the
car had not moved. A local deputy arrived at the car to investigate.
He found Nelson sleeping in the back seat of the car.
Nelson claimed to have borrowed the car from a friend. The deputy’s
computer program used to verify Department of Motor Vehicles records was
not working, but the deputy did notice an insurance card in the car with
the name of Brace on it. Since Nelson did not have a driver’s license,
the Deputy made him leave the car parked and gave him a ride to his
Later that evening, the deputy
heard an announcement over the police radio regarding Brace. The
deputy, along with a sergeant, returned to the vehicle and identified it
as belonging to Brace. Nelson was interrogated by police on November 17th,
18th and 19th. During the final interrogation,
Nelson confessed to murdering Brace and showed the police the location
of the body.
Medical examination confirmed
Nelson’s statements regarding the tire iron and fire extinguisher. The
examination also revealed that Brace suffered from a crushed vertebra
and three broken ribs. Evidence such as fingerprints, shoe prints, DNA
testing of pubic hair found on Brace’s bed and blood stains, were all
consistent with Nelson’s guilt.
12/10/97 Indicted as follows:
Count I: First-Degree Murder
Count II: Kidnapping
Count III: Burglary of a Structure
Count IV: Grand Theft Auto
Defendant was charged by Information from Highlands County on the
Count I: Burglary of a Conveyance
Count II: Sexual Battery
12/14/99 Jury returned guilty verdicts on all counts of the
12/22/99 Jury recommended death by a
vote of 9-3 majority
03/17/00 Sentenced as follows:
Count I: First-Degree
murder – Death sentence
Count II: Kidnapping – Life
Count III: Burglary of a Structure –
Count IV: Grand Theft Auto – 15
Count I: Burglary of a
conveyance – Life
Count II: Sexual Battery – Life
During trial, Nelson claimed to be mentally ill. He stated that on the
day of the murder he suffered from hallucinations and depression. These
claims, however, had no evidence to support them and were disregarded by
the court. Several witnesses who encountered Nelson before the murder
testified that his behavior was normal.
04/24/00, Nelson filed a Direct Appeal to the Florida Supreme Court.
Issues presented were whether error occurred in denying Nelson’s motion
to suppress statements and evidence that was involuntary. Nelson
contended that he was coerced into locating Brace’s body through use of
the “Christian burial” technique.
Error was also argued to have
occurred in instructing the jury on and finding that Nelson murdered the
victim to avoid a lawful arrest, finding that the murder was committed
in a cold calculated and premeditated manner without and pretense of
moral or legal justification, and allegedly failing to consider and
weigh mitigating circumstances. Nelson also contended that the sentence
of death was disproportionate in comparison to other capital cases
involving mentally disturbed defendants.
The court examined the records
and determined that there was substantial evidence to support the
conviction of first-degree murder. The conviction and sentence was
affirmed on 10/03/02. On 07/10/03, the motion for rehearing was denied
and a revised opinion reaffirming Nelson’s sentence was substituted in
place of the previous opinion.
10/08/03, Nelson filed a Petition for Writ of Certiorari to the United
States Supreme Court. On 12/15/03, the petition was denied.
Micah Louis Nelson at Death Row