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O.C. Woman Sentenced in Grisly Murder

March 13, 1993|RENE LYNCH | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SANTA ANA — A woman who bludgeoned her husband, chopped up his body and cooked parts of it was sentenced Friday to 27 years to life in prison, after police compared her to notorious cannibals Jeffrey L. Dahmer and the fictional Dr. Hannibal Lecter.

Omaima Nelson, 24, was convicted of second-degree murder for killing William Nelson, 56, in 1991 in the Costa Mesa apartment the newlyweds shared. She then skinned the torso, cooked the head and fried the hands in oil.

Nelson, 24, showed no emotion during a brief sentencing hearing in Orange County Superior Court in Santa Ana, but she is has hopes for her future. Nelson has become engaged to a man in his 70s and hopes to return to college someday to become a counselor to abused women, according to a sentencing report.

Nelson, a native of Egypt and a former model, told jurors that Nelson was raping her when she killed him in self-defense. But prosecutors depicted Omaima Nelson as a predator who stalked men and traded sex for money and drugs.

In addition to the second-degree murder charge, Nelson was convicted of assaulting a former boyfriend, Robert Hannson of Huntington Beach, in 1990 by tying him up and demanding money at gunpoint.

Judge Robert R. Fitzgerald cited the bizarre nature of the crimes and the great public interest for the lengthy prison sentence. Nelson was technically eligible for probation.

"If I don't want to be a judge anymore, I guess I could grant probation," said Fitzgerald, who said he was being facetious. But he added, "The killing and the aftermath is so bizarre that any thinking judge would not grant probation."

Nelson's trial included testimony of bondage sex games the Nelsons played, nude photos of Omaima Nelson and gruesome details about the butchering of William Nelson.

William Nelson, a pilot, had earlier been convicted of drug smuggling and was still legally married when he took Omaima Stainbrook as his wife.

During the trial, a psychiatrist testified that Omaima Nelson told him that she dressed up in a red hat, red shoes and red lipstick before spending hours chopping up her husband's body. She tossed some of the body parts down a garbage disposal. She also told her therapist that she had eaten some of the body parts, but she later denied engaging in cannibalism.

A court-ordered sentencing report by the Orange County Probation Department offered several different views of Omaima Nelson.

Costa Mesa Police Officer Robert B. Phillips stated: "Omaima Nelson is the most bizarre and sick individual I've had the occasion to meet. No one needs to look to the Dahmers of Milwaukee or the Hannibal Lecters of the screen. A new predator has emerged, named Omaima."

Fitzgerald read Phillips' statement aloud in court but said he did not completely agree with the officer's feelings. Outside of court, Deputy Public Defender Thomas G. Mooney said the statement was overblown.

"It's just outrageous to compare her to Jeffrey Dahmer, and Hannibal Lecter is a fictional character," Mooney said. Mooney said Nelson was upset after the sentence.

"She's very upset, understandably so," he said. "She said to me, 'How could this happen? It was self-defense.' "

Mooney said Omaima Nelson lived an exemplary life before coming to the United States and settling in Orange County in 1987, where she had repeated brushes with the law, mostly for taking cars from male friends without permission, driving under the influence of alcohol, petty theft and numerous traffic violations.

Mooney said Nelson was unprepared for living in a foreign land, given her limited education and language abilities and her abusive upbringing.

A therapist selected by the defense said in court records that Nelson suffered from a mental condition and repeated sexual and physical abuse she endured while growing up.

Nelson has told authorities that she was sexually assaulted by her brother and stepfather and was forced to undergo a female circumcision, a ritual mutilation of the female genitalia practiced in some parts of the world.

Therapist Nancy Kaser-Boyd said the butchering of the body also might have some cultural and religious significance if Nelson believed that dismembering the body would ensure that she would not meet William Nelson in the "nether world."

Deputy Dist. Atty. Randolph J. Pawloski said in the report that Nelson was one of the most dangerous individuals he had ever met.

Outside of court, Pawloski said spousal abuse did occur between the Nelsons--but William Nelson was the victim.

Omaima Nelson was arrested after she stuffed some of her husband's body parts into garbage bags and offered a friend $75,000 to help her dispose of it. The friend called police, who made the grisly discovery.

According to the sentencing report, she gave wildly differing statements to police about the death, both admitting and then denying involvement and apparently concocting stories to explain the body parts in the back seat of her car.

She claimed that someone was trying to set her up, then blamed the slaying on a man who caught a ride with her to a nearby automated laundry. She then told police that she believed she should contact William Nelson for help in finding his assailant, even though she knew he was dead.

In denying involvement in the slaying shortly after her arrest, Nelson told police that "she could not even cut her own hair much less someone who weighed 230 pounds."

She also asked police whether she could plead guilty and request the "gas chair," according to the report.

On her own behalf, however, Nelson told the probation officer that she is really a "warm person who wouldn't hurt a mosquito," according to the report.

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