SANTA ANA — That William E. Nelson's death was grisly, no one denies. Police found parts of his dismembered body wrapped up in newspaper and the rest of his hewed corpse in his bloody Costa Mesa apartment.
That his common-law wife, Omaima Aree Nelson, killed him, also isn't disputed. Her attorney has said that she acted in self-defense after he raped her that night.
But for the first time in open court, the defense and prosecution Monday revealed parts of their legal strategies.
Deputy Public Defender Thomas G. Mooney said he will introduce evidence that Omaima Nelson, 24, is a long-suffering victim of the battered woman syndrome and that the psychological malaise is behind the November, 1991, killing. Mooney said Omaima Nelson had been involved in other abusive relationships before meeting William Nelson, 56, of Costa Mesa, and that he also abused her during their two months together.
But Deputy Dist. Atty. Randolph J. Pawloski told Judge Robert R. Fitzgerald in Superior Court that the prosecution will suggest that Omaima Nelson had other motives.
Pawloski said he will try to prove in trial that the deep, bruised rings around both of William Nelson's ankles are evidence that he might have been in bondage during sexual acts with the defendant the night he was killed. Omaima Nelson had twice before tied up her lovers during sex acts, only to hold them up at gunpoint and demand money, he said. The defendant might have been doing the same thing the night of the killing, he said.
Omaima Nelson has consistently maintained that she was trussed to the bed and raped by William Nelson that night.
Fitzgerald tentatively ruled Monday that prosecutors could introduce evidence that the defendant has a history of physically assaulting other people.
Omaima Nelson, an Egyptian national who immigrated to this country in 1986, was arrested Dec. 2 and charged with first-degree murder of Nelson. Police said she dismembered his body and stuffed his body parts into several trash bags.
If convicted, she could face 25 years to life imprisonment.
Nelson, who is just over 5 feet tall and has gained about 40 pounds since her incarceration a year ago, sat impassively during the day's motions. She appeared upset once when, after a break, she was brought back into court in her jail garb. She had worn a white and lime-green shorts suit before the break.
She watched without emotion as prosecutors presented pictures and allegations about the fate of William Nelson.
There were graphic photographs showing the remains of the victim as pieced together by pathologists. Pawloski said William Nelson's hands apparently had been fried. His torso and lower body were skinless.
A neighbor told police he "heard the garbage disposal go on for a long time . . . and constant chopping sounds" throughout one night and into the next morning, Pawloski said.
Police also found a bag filled with other body parts and a broken iron with remnants of William Nelson's scalp and hair, Pawloski said.
Pawloski also showed nude pictures of Omaima Nelson provocatively posing for a photographer whom the prosecutor said was William Nelson. The color photographs were taken shortly before the victim's death, Pawloski said, and showed a smiling Omaima Nelson without signs of physical abuse.
Prosecutors said they plan to prove that William Nelson did not continually beat his wife during their relationship.
Still unclear is the exact marital status of Omaima and William Nelson. At the time of his death, the victim was still married to a Santa Barbara woman. Defense attorney Mooney said he intends to prove that his client and William Nelson were indeed married.
Also yet to be established is the exact date William Nelson was killed. Neighbors at the Costa Mesa apartment building said they last saw the pair together at noon last Thanksgiving. Omaima Nelson went to a friend's house on Dec. 1 to tell him she had killed her husband and she needed his help in discarding the body parts.
The defendant also faces three other felony charges in an unrelated case that will be tried simultaneously with the murder case. She is accused of tying up Robert Hannson, a former boyfriend, and demanding money at gunpoint in November, 1990, in Huntington Beach. She is charged with assault with a deadly weapon, false imprisonment and attempted robbery in that case.