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Second-Degree Verdict for Wife in Grisly Murder

January 13, 1993|RENE LYNCH | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SANTA ANA — Omaima Nelson, an Egyptian-born woman who claimed she killed and dismembered her husband because she could no longer endure his physical and sexual abuse, was convicted Tuesday of second-degree murder in one of Orange County's most grisly slayings.

Despite feeling some pity for the woman, the eight-woman, four-man jury did not entirely believe her claims about her relationship with pilot William E. Nelson, 56, who was slain over Thanksgiving weekend in 1991 and then butchered in the Costa Mesa apartment the newlyweds shared, the jury foreman said after the verdict.

The Orange County Superior Court jury deliberated six days before acquitting Nelson of first-degree murder, concluding there was insufficient evidence to prove the slaying was premeditated, despite the extensive mutilation of the body, said foreman Famous Hooks, 35, of Fountain Valley. But the jury found her guilty of the lesser offense of second-degree murder.

Jurors were disturbed by evidence presented during the trial, which included tales of bondage sex games, decapitation, castration and even an allegation of cannibalism, said Hooks, who spoke on behalf of the 11 other jurors.

"All I want to do right now is go home and go to bed," said Hooks, who said evidence photos of dismembered body parts will be hard to erase from memory. "You had to see the pictures (of the victim). The pictures were bad enough."

Omaima Nelson, 26, who wept after the verdicts were read, was also convicted of assaulting Robert Hannson of Huntington Beach in November, 1990. Prosecutors charged that Nelson tied Hannson up and demanded money from him at gunpoint, but jurors acquitted Nelson of false imprisonment and attempted robbery.

Jurors also determined that she used a knife in the attack on her husband and used a gun in the assault on Hannson, a former boyfriend. Those determinations will add as much as six years to her sentence.

Nelson faces a maximum penalty of 28 years to life in prison when she is sentenced on Feb. 26, including 10 years in prison for assaulting Hannson with a gun and 18 years to life in prison for the slaying of William Nelson and the use of a knife.

If she receives the maximum penalty, Nelson could be eligible for parole in the year 2007, he said.

During the trial, Deputy Public Defender Thomas G. Mooney portrayed Omaima Nelson as an abused woman who turned on her attacker. Mooney insisted that his client is not guilty, said he was disappointed with the verdict and vowed to seek a new trial for his client.

"She is the victim," he said. "She was the victim of an assault and attempted rape that night."

Deputy Dist. Atty. Randolph J. Pawloski, however, described Omaima Nelson as a "predator." The prosecutor told jurors that Omaima Nelson planned to flee the area with her husband's cash, credit cards and car after the slaying.

The trial was marked by graphic testimony about the dismemberment of William Nelson.

In testimony that left the courtroom audience transfixed, Omaima Nelson told jurors that she stabbed and beat her new husband to death to stop him from attempting to rape her. She said that after the slaying she "freaked out," fell into a trance-like state, and spent 12 hours hacking up the body to simplify disposal.

A neighbor reported constant chopping sounds and grinding of the garbage disposal in the Nelson apartment throughout the night, according to Pawloski.

Omaima Nelson admitted cooking her husband's head, boiling his hands to remove the fingerprints and mixing up body parts with leftover Thanksgiving Day turkey to hide the remains in a trash bin.

Omaima Nelson also admitted castrating Bill Nelson in revenge for his sexual assaults on her. Prosecutors said William Nelson's lower body and torso were skinned.

Statements by Omaima Nelson's psychiatrist proved even more gruesome. Dr. David J. Sheffner, who diagnosed her as psychotic, said Omaima Nelson told him that she dressed up in a red hat, red high-heel shoes and red lipstick as part of a ritual during the nightlong dismemberment.

She also told Sheffner that she ate William Nelson's ribs after cooking them in barbecue sauce.

" 'I did his ribs just like in a restaurant,' " Sheffner quoted Nelson as saying. She said she sat at the kitchen table with Bill Nelson's cooked remains and said out loud: "It's so sweet, it's so delicious. . . . I like mine tender,"' the doctor recalled.

Investigators found Bill Nelson's body parts stuffed in garbage bags, but some parts were never found.

During the trial, Pawloski sarcastically asked Omaima Nelson for help in finding all the evidence. He said investigators had not yet found all the "meat" from the large man.

"We're missing about 130 pounds of Bill. You know where he might have gone?" Pawloski asked.

"No, he was all there," Nelson said.

Sheffner said Omaima Nelson later denied eating her husband's remains. The doctor said he has never seen anything "so bizarre, so psychotic" in his 20 years of practice.

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