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D.A. to fight parole for ex-model who ate husband's body parts

Prosecutors, detectives to recount horrific details of 1991 murder. Omaima Nelson says she has reformed herself and is no longer a danger to society.

October 05, 2011|By Richard Winton, Los Angeles Times
  • Omaima Nelson, a former model and native of Egypt, is seen in 1993 during sentencing after being convicted of murdering her husband, dismembering his body and then cooking his body parts and eating them. She was sentenced to 27 years to life in prison.
Omaima Nelson, a former model and native of Egypt, is seen in 1993 during… (Glenn Koenig / Los Angeles…)

The former model at the center of one of Orange County's most notorious murder cases will go before a state parole board Wednesday seeking her freedom two decades after she killed her husband, cooked his body parts and ate them.

The detectives and prosecutors who handled the original case are lining up to oppose Omaima Nelson's bid for parole, but the effort is forcing them to relive the most horrific case of their careers.

Orange County Senior Deputy Dist. Atty. Randolph J. Pawloski said he will never forget the day in 1991 when he visited the Costa Mesa apartment Nelson shared with her new husband, William.

"There were suitcases and plastic bags soaked with dark liquid from his body parts. In the fry cooker there sat Mr. Nelson's hands, and when we opened the refrigerator there was Mr. Nelson's head with stab wounds," Palowski said. "She had his entrails in his Corvette, and she was trying to get an ex-boyfriend to yank out the dentures from the head so she could dump it in the [Newport Beach] Back Bay."

Palowski said he plans to recount that and other grisly details from the case when he addresses the parole board at the Central California Women's Facility in Chowchilla, northwest of Fresno. The Egyptian native is seeking early release on her term of 27 years to life in prison.

"It is certainly one of the most gruesome … crimes ever committed in Orange County and sometime people need reminding of that," he said. "It is probably the most egregious mutilation murder we've had here."

Nelson, now 56, is arguing that she has reformed herself and is no longer a danger to society.

"She has served 20 years and she deserves parole," said Thomas Mooney, who represented her at trial and presented evidence that she was a battered woman abused by several men, including her husband.

"The notoriety of this case is what she did with the body after she killed him. But she killed because she was abused. The psychiatrist testified at trial in his over 20 years of experience she was in the most psychotic state he had ever seen."

When she was arrested, Nelson claimed that her husband had repeatedly raped and beat her. But the jury rejected her claims, finding her guilty of second-degree murder.

In court, a psychiatrist testified that Nelson put on red shoes, a red hat and red lipstick before spending hours chopping up her husband's body.

" 'I did his ribs just like in a restaurant,' " the psychiatrist quoted Nelson as saying.

Nelson revealed that she sat at the kitchen table with her husband's cooked remains and said out loud: " 'It's so sweet, it's so delicious.... I like mine tender,' " the doctor recalled.

On the witness stand, Nelson vividly described stabbing and beating her husband to death to stop him from attempting to rape her.

She said afterward she "freaked out," fell into a trance-like state, and spent 12 hours hacking up his body to simplify its disposal. She admitted carving and cooking her husband before mixing up his body parts with leftover Thanksgiving Day turkey in bags.

"It was the most gruesome case I saw," said former Costa Mesa Police Sgt. Bob Phillips, who was the lead detective on the case. "She was up for many, many days trying to complete this crime and it might have been sleep deprivation and general fatigue from dismembering a body."

Orange County prosecutors also plan to present the parole board with evidence that Nelson has been violent to men in the past.

She was convicted of assaulting an ex-boyfriend in 1990 by tying him up and demanding money at gunpoint.

Pawloski said Nelson bit a security guard's breast and had several violent encounters while in prison. But he said she's been out of trouble since 2006, when the parole board denied her first attempt at freedom.

During that hearing, she expressed remorse for killing her husband and said she had found salvation as a born-again Christian.

"I felt that I was doing the right thing by exercising this judgment as I was killing him," she said during her 2006 parole hearing, according to the Associated Press. "I'm not denying that I did what I did and I'm very sorry for the ... family."

But the Orange County district attorney's office said she has failed to take advantage of prison self-help programs.

"She should be kept in prison for the maximum denial period," Pawloski said.

richard.winton@latimes.com

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