The Mona Nelson Blow Torch Murder Case

     In April 2010, 44-year-old Angela, the mother of an 11-year-old boy from a previous relationship, married David Davis. Angela’s son, a red-headed fifth-grader named Jonathan Foster, lived with his paternal grandmother. In November 2…

     In April 2010, 44-year-old Angela, the mother of an 11-year-old boy from a previous relationship, married David Davis. Angela's son, a red-headed fifth-grader named Jonathan Foster, lived with his paternal grandmother. In November 2010, the child moved into the Houston, Texas duplex with his mother and new stepfather.

    When he drank, David Davis became violent. One of his assaults sent Angela to the hospital. On December 14, 2010, after Mr. Davis slapped his stepson in the face, Angela and Jonathan moved a hundred feet away into the apartment of a woman who had befriended Angela.

     In the early afternoon of December 24, 2010, a woman who referred to herself as Jonathan's babysitter, spoke on the telephone to one of Angela's co-workers at a meat market where she was employed as a cashier. The woman said she wanted to speak to Angela. The co-worker passed the message on to Angela who said she didn't have a babysitter. Angela called the number and a woman answered the phone. Just before the line went dead, Angela heard her son's voice. She rushed home to check on Jonathan. He was not in the apartment. Fearing foul play, Angela called 911 and reported her son missing.

     Detectives with the Houston Police Department, from the beginning, treated the case as a possible kidnapping. The police, suspecting Angela's estranged husband David, questioned him closely. David Davis said he had checked on Jonathan just 25 minutes before Angela came home and found him missing. At that time, the boy was playing a video game. "There's no doubt in my mind that he's been snatched," the stepfather said. "I think a pedophile took him."

     As investigators questioned other family members, neighbors and volunteers handed out fliers. Angela faced a television camera and said this to the abductor: "Don't hurt my baby." On the possibility that Jonathan had been kidnapped by a stranger, detectives questioned fifty registered sex offenders in the northwest Houston area.

     On December 28, 2010, four days after Jonathan went missing, a Houston Police Department's K-9 unit recovery dog detected what turned out to be the boy's badly charred remains. (Jonathan Foster had to be identified by dental records.) The body, bound with twine, had been dumped into a ditch four miles from his residence. Near the corpse detectives found a welder's torch.

     Surveillance camera footage from a building near Jonathan's body showed a silver Ford pickup truck pulling up to the site at six o'clock that Christmas eve. A black woman got out of the vehicle, reached into the bed, took out what appeared to be a body, and placed it into the ditch.

     Detectives quickly identified the woman in the truck as 44-year-old Mona Yvette Nelson, an acquaintance of the woman who had been sharing her apartment with Angela and Jonathan. Two weeks earlier, Mona had met David Davis, the boy's stepfather. According to witnesses, Mona Nelson had been seen recently in the vicinity of the murdered child's home.

     As a maintenance employee, Nelson had worked with acetylene torches and various types of welding equipment. A former boxer, she had been convicted in 1984 of aggravated robbery which brought her a ten-year probated sentence. Nelson had since been arrested for various drug charges and for making terroristic threats against another woman. The suspect owned a truck that looked like the silver Ford driven by the woman seen on surveillance tapes dumping the body into the ditch.

     On December 30, 2011, at a press conference, a spokesperson for the Houston Police Department announced that Mona Nelson, charged with capital murder, had been arrested for Jonathan Foster's death. Having been denied bond, the suspect was incarcerated in the Harris County Jail. In a search of her northwest Houston residence detectives found twine similar to the cordage found on Jonathan's body. Officers also recovered an acetylene tank used in welding. Sections of Nelson's carpet had been recently burned.

     According to the police spokesperson, Nelson, under police questioning, had admitted dumping Jonathan's body in the ditch. The suspect had not, however, confessed to murdering the boy.

     The day after Nelson's arrest, a local television reporter interviewed her at the Harris County Jail. Nelson told the correspondent that one of Jonathan's family members, on Christmas Eve, had asked her to dump the contents of a garbage container. The unnamed relative paid her twenty dollars for the job. She had been drunk on vodka and had no idea what was in the plastic container. "I didn't know what was in it until they were showing me pictures in the interrogation room. I'm not a monster," she said, "I have five grandkids and I love kids."

     Houston homicide detective Mike Miller, in response to Nelson's statements to the TV reporter, pointed out that Jonathan's body had not been found in a container. In describing the murder suspect, Detective Miller said, "She is a cold soul-less murderer who showed an absolute lack of remorse in taking the life of Jonathan Foster. There's only been one or two people I've ever talked to that had eyes like she did. It was really cold." Detective Miller said that all of the victim's family members, including his stepfather David Davis, had solid alibis. Mona Nelson had acted on her own, he said.

     On Monday, January 3, 2011, Mona Nelson appeared before a judge who asked her if she understood her rights. She said that she did. The judge appointed Nelson an attorney, informed her of the charge, and sent her back to jail. A month later, Harris County prosecutor Connie Spence presented the case to a grand jury that returned a true bill of capital murder.

     The Nelson murder trial got underway on Monday, August 12, 2013 before district judge Jeannine Barr. The defendant had waived her right to a jury trial, putting her fate entirely in the hands of this judge. Nelson's attorney, Alan Tanner, before the opening statements and presentation of witnesses, asked Judge Barr to quash five recorded statements his client had made to detectives over a stretch of seventeen hours at her home and at the police station. According to the defense attorney, the interrogators continued to question Nelson after she complained a dozen times of being ill. The officers did not address Nelson's health complaints until after the interrogation. (Detectives took her to a nearby hospital where doctors found nothing wrong with her.)

     On Tuesday, August 13, Mona Nelson, pursuant to the procedural law question regarding the admissibility of her police statements, testified that her interrogators had worn her down. Although she asked to consult with an attorney a dozen times, the questioning continued. Attorney Tanner argued that the interrogating officers had violated his client's Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. He also asserted that her statements had not been given voluntarily and were therefore inadmissible in court.

     Judge Barr, later that afternoon, made her evidentiary ruling. She excluded the statements Nelson made after she had requested to see a lawyer. Since these requests came late in the interrogation session, most of her statements were admissible.

     In her opening remarks before Judge Barr, prosecutor Spence admitted that the state would not be establishing a motive for Jonathan's murder. (While prosecutors prefer to have motive evidence, it is not a legal requirement for a murder conviction. All the state has to prove is criminal intent. In substantive law, the why is not relevant.) The prosecutor promised the judge that she would prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Mona Nelson, sometime between 2:15 and 6:08 PM on December 24, 2010, tortured and killed the 11-year-old Foster boy with a blowtorch at her home, then dumped his charred remains in a ditch. Spence said that one of the key pieces of evidence she would introduce involved Jonathan's sweat shirt found in a trash can near the defendant's house. The garment bore traces of Nelson's blood.

     Defense attorney Tanner reminded the judge that just because his client had dumped the boy's body in the ditch didn't necessary mean that she had killed him. In foreshadowing the thrust of his defense, Tanner cast suspicion on the victim's stepdad, David Davis. According to the defense attorney, the boy had come between Davis and his estranged wife which may have been the motive behind the murder. All Mona Nelson did was dispose of the contents of a garbage can that had been given to her.

     The victim's mother took the stand as the state's first witness. She was followed by several detectives who testified about the physical evidence they had recovered from Nelson's home and how it related to the evidence found near Jonathan Foster's charred corpse. David Davis, the stepfather, took the stand and admitted that he had hit the victim's mother. He said he had never harmed the boy. Through direct examination, prosecutor Spence established the witness' whereabouts at the time of the abduction and the murder.

     Lois Sims, the supervisor at the meat market who took the phone call for Angela Davis on the afternoon of December 24, 2010, described the caller as an angry, foul-mouthed woman. The caller wanted the telephone number of the woman leasing the duplex where Davis and her son were staying. "If you don't get her on the phone now, something's going to happen. He [Jonathan] won't be here for long."

     Defense attorney Tanner pointed out that the two meat market supervisors had described the caller as a white woman.

     On August  19, 2013, two Houston Police Department K-9 officers testified that three cadaver dogs had reacted strongly to a box of burned carpeting at Nelson's house. One of the witnesses said, "There was a strong odor of human remains there. An arborist (tree expert) testified that leaves at the dump site had come from oak trees. There were no such trees where Jonathan's body had been recovered, but around Nelson's house, there were seven trees of this kind.

     The prosecutor played a videotaped statement from Nelson in which she admitted being at the place where Jonathan's body had been dumped. She said she had emptied a garbage container at the site. She said she didn't know the contents of the plastic container.

     The following day, a forensic scientist from the FBI Crime Laboratory testified that a Looney Tunes sweatshirt that belonged to Jonathan, recovered from the defendants trash can, contained Nelson's blood and DNA. Two other DNA experts agreed with this analysis. The presence of this trace evidence on the sweatshirt suggested that the victim had put up a fight.

     On Friday morning, August 23, the prosecution rested its case. Allen Tanner launched his client's defense with the testimony of a woman who gave Mona Nelson an alibi. Following the testimony of two other witnesses, the defense rested its case. Mona Nelson did not take the stand on her own behalf.

     The next day, defense attorney Allen Tanner delivered his closing argument to the judge. "Mona Nelson," he said, "had absolutely no motive to kill Jonathan Foster. They searched and searched for a motive and there's no reason why she would have killed that boy." In referring to David Davis, the estranged husband, Tanner said, "He wanted to get her back and he told people at work that Jonathan is the root of all his problems....The [prosecution's] case got weaker and weaker....There are more and more unanswered questions now than there were at the beginning. The evidence is clear there could be people who committed this crime and we have no idea at this time who they are."

     When it came her turn to address the judge, prosecutor Spence said, "This defendant took Jonathan Foster back to her house and killed him. We'll never know how she killed him because she burned his body to the point where you can't tell."

     On Monday morning, August 26, 2013, Judge Jeannine Barr found Mona Nelson guilty as charged. She imposed the automatic sentence of life without parole. After hearing the verdict, Nelson said, "I'm innocent, and I maintain my innocence. I wouldn't harm anybody."

     Defense attorney Allen Tanner told reporters he would file an appeal on the grounds of insufficient evidence. "We believe someone else kidnapped this child and someone else killed this child."

     On March 19, 2015, a three-judge panel on the Fourth District Texas Court of Appeals affirmed the Mona Nelson capital murder conviction.


from http://jimfishertruecrime.blogspot.com/