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Nesler Gets 25 Years to Life for Killing Man

The defendant's mother, Ellie Nesler, killed his accused molester in court in 1993.

June 21, 2005|Eric Bailey | Times Staff Writer

SONORA, Calif. — William Nesler stood in a cramped courtroom Monday, a dozen years after his mother gunned down a man accused of molesting him, and admitted no remorse for taking the law into his own hands by murdering a man in a dispute over tools.

Nesler, who had just been sentenced to 25 years to life in prison for stomping David Davis to death last summer, told Judge Eric L. Du Temple that "I've done bad things" but that he had been "railroaded" by the criminal justice system.

In a short, rambling monologue, Nesler said he came from a good family, even if his mother, Ellie Nesler, had "killed people in a courtroom for things they done wrong."

Nesler, 23, acknowledged that he was no judge or jury and that he did not know Davis, a 45-year-old father of two.

"A dead man is a dead man," Nesler said in a deep voice. "That's all I really have to say about him."

A second defendant, Dean Phillips, 39, received a similar life sentence for violating the state's three-strikes law. Phillips was convicted of being an accessory after the fact for driving Nesler away from the crime scene, a junk-strewn lot, which is owned by the Nesler clan, north of Sonora, 50 miles east of Stockton.

"I want the defendants to know the agony they've caused," Rita Brown, Davis' mother, told the hushed courtroom. "They've torn the heart from our family."

For Nesler, his sentencing was the latest act in a drama that began in 1993.

That was when his mother entered a courtroom in nearby Jamestown and pumped five bullets into the head of Daniel Driver, a twice-convicted child molester who was accused of molesting 11-year-old Willie at a Christian summer camp.

Her case drew national attention, with some praising her as an avenging parent and others condemning her as a vigilante.

Since then, Willie Nesler, as he is still known, has been in and out of trouble with the law.

He repeatedly landed in juvenile hall and in teenage work camps as a youth and in jail as an adult. In the last five years, deputies have booked him into the county jail 18 times on robbery charges, drug allegations and complaints about a pet Rottweiler.

Outside court, his sister, 19-year-old Rebecca, said Willie Nesler never had a chance in life, his fate sealed by the molestation and subsequent courtroom killing.

"They all think he's a monster," she said. "But the government created him. They've never been there for him. They never, ever once got him help."

Nesler allowed Davis to live on his family's property in exchange for cleaning up debris. But the agreement quickly soured. In mid-June 2004, Davis called the sheriff and accused Nesler of trying to steal some of his tools.

In front of three deputies, Nesler lunged at Davis, hitting and punching him. According to an arrest report, the deputies restrained Nesler -- 6 feet 2 and 230 pounds -- and handcuffed his bulging, tattooed arms.

Nesler pleaded guilty to misdemeanor battery and received a 60-day jail sentence. Authorities released him for good behavior after little more than a month, and Nesler drove with friends to his family's land along Shaws Flat Road, next to an old cement plant.

Witnesses said during the trial that Nesler broke into a trailer where Davis slept and pulled the smaller man out. Davis, who had a spine injury that limited his mobility, tried to flee but tripped or was tackled.

As Davis lay on the ground pleading for mercy, witnesses said, Nesler stomped on his head.

The victim's mother said it was a sad mismatch. Her son "was disabled, frail, he couldn't run for help," she said in court.

"It was a violent act. It was a heinous act," said Eric Hovatter, the Tuolumne County deputy district attorney who prosecuted the first-degree murder case. "There's been no visible sign of remorse."

Davis died the next day. Nesler dodged a police dragnet for a week, but surrendered to a Sacramento bounty hunter who had befriended his family during his mother's trial.

Rebecca Nesler said she agreed with Willie Nesler that he had been railroaded. She recalled that while visiting him after his arrest last year, he said that once authorities heard his name -- a modern addition to the lore of this land of gold miners and Wild West killings -- "they already knew his sentence."

This weekend, she plans to visit her mother in prison and tell her about Willie's sentence.

Ellie Nesler, who spent three years behind bars for killing Driver but was released on appeal because of alleged jury misconduct, was convicted in 2002 of buying 10,000 pseudoephedrine tablets, which are used to make methamphetamine, and sentenced to six years in prison.

"I know she feels a lot of anger -- and guilty," Rebecca Nesler said. She said that during one visit, she told her mother that by killing a molester who was likely to strike again, "you saved a lot of boys."

Yes, replied Ellie Nesler, "but I didn't save my own."

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