- Associated Press - Wednesday, April 20, 2016

EUGENE, Ore. (AP) - A Lane County jury has begun hearing evidence in a capital murder trial for a 26-year-old military veteran charged with playing a key role in the kidnap, robbery and brutal killing of a Eugene man in 2012.

Prosecutor David Schwartz suggested in an opening statement in A.J. Scott Nelson’s murder trial that jurors should have little difficulty returning guilty verdicts in the case.

“The evidence of his guilt will be overwhelming,” Schwartz told the jury.

Nelson was one of three people arrested and charged in the August 2012 slaying of 22-year-old Celestino “Tino” Gutierrez Jr. He faces a potential death sentence if convicted of aggravated murder.

The plot’s mastermind, David Ray Taylor, was sentenced to death after a trial in 2014. The third person charged in the case, Mercedes Crabtree, is serving life in prison with the possibility of parole after 30 years. She was 18 when the crimes occurred.

Schwartz said the trio worked together on a plan to kidnap a stranger in order to steal the victim’s car for use in a bank robbery.

Authorities say Taylor and Nelson carried out an armed, takeover-style robbery at a bank in Mapleton hours after they killed Gutierrez and then dismembered his body at Taylor’s home off Highway 99 in Eugene. Gutierrez’s car served as a getaway vehicle in the heist.

Schwartz told jurors that he expects Nelson’s lawyers will “try to excuse the unexcusable” by offering various defenses that may include contending that Taylor forced Nelson to participate in the slaying.

But those attempts “will fail,” the prosecutor predicted.

Chris Clayhold, a public defender representing Nelson, said Tuesday in his opening statement that his client reluctantly became involved in the murder after Taylor had threatened to kill both him and Crabtree if they didn’t go along with the plan.

“At no time during this case did Mr. Nelson share the intent, the desire or the purpose of David Ray Taylor to kill another human being,” Clayhold said. “Mr. Nelson never had that intent.”

Taylor, now 60, spent 27 years in prison for a 1977 murder in Lane County. He was released on parole in 2004 and stayed out of major trouble with the law until he was arrested on murder charges in Gutierrez’s death.

Nelson and Crabtree both lived in the Portland area prior to their arrests. Nelson had served previously with the Army, and received a Purple Heart medal after his squad’s armored vehicle was destroyed by a roadside bomb during a combat tour in Afghanistan in 2009. Nelson was injured in the blast.

Clayhold told the jury that his client returned from combat with “a traumatized mind” and displayed symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder after the explosion. Nelson was discharged from the military in 2012.

Nelson had traveled with Crabtree to Eugene to help Taylor rob the Mapleton bank, but the original robbery plan failed when a car they had obtained for use as a getaway vehicle apparently broke down near Fern Ridge Lake. According to testimony in Taylor’s trial, Taylor then came up with an alternate plan to steal a vehicle and had Crabtree and Nelson stage an argument outside a Eugene tavern, in order to lure Gutierrez into offering Crabtree a ride.

Gutierrez unwittingly drove Crabtree to Taylor’s home, then followed her into the residence.

Crabtree, who pleaded guilty to the murder in 2013 and agreed in her plea deal to testify against both Nelson and Taylor, testified at Taylor’s trial that after Gutierrez went into the house, Nelson - at Taylor’s direction - bound Gutierrez with electrical wire and a belt, pushed a crossbow bolt through one of the victim’s ears and choked him.

After mocking Nelson for failing to kill Gutierrez swiftly, Taylor wrapped a metal chain around Gutierrez’s neck and pulled on it until the victim stopped breathing, Crabtree told the jury in Taylor’s case.

Crabtree said Nelson went into a brief seizure as he and Taylor cut up the body, and came out of it confused about what he had done.

Gutierrez’s body was later found buried off a remote forest road in the Coast Range west of Eugene.

Prosecutors called Gutierrez’s mother, Rose Gutierrez of Eugene, to testify briefly about the night of Aug. 2, 2012, when her son went out with friends but didn’t return home afterward. As she did in Taylor’s trial, Rose Gutierrez recounted how she had repeatedly tried without success to contact the youngest of her three children - who she referred to as “little Tino” in testimony - by phone and then drove around Eugene looking for him.

On the evening of Aug. 3, hours after her son’s car was used in the Mapleton bank robbery, she filed a missing-person report with Eugene police.

Also testifying were employees of the Siuslaw Bank branch that authorities say Taylor and Nelson robbed hours after killing Gutierrez.

Nelson’s trial is expected to take several weeks to complete.

___

Information from: The Register-Guard, https://www.registerguard.com

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