- Associated Press - Wednesday, May 18, 2016

EUGENE, Ore. (AP) - Helpful and generous.

That’s how Tino Gutierrez’s family members described him in testimony given during the sentencing phase of a trial in Lane County Circuit Court for one of three people convicted of murdering the 22-year-old Eugene man in 2012.

Gutierrez’s closest relatives said they’re still grieving and still unable to come to terms with the fact that the kindness he regularly showed others during his relatively brief life ultimately put him in a position to be killed.

“It’s that trait that took him to his death, and that’s a really hard pill to swallow,” his brother, Matt Gutierrez, told jurors during A.J. Scott Nelson’s murder trial.

Gutierrez’s other brother, Jeff, also testified, as did his parents, Rose and Celestino Gutierrez.

Through her tears, Rose Gutierrez said from the witness stand that the death of her youngest son - whom she referred to as “little Tino” - leaves “a hole that is never going to be filled.”

The six-woman, six-man jury in Nelson’s case last week found the Army veteran guilty of 18 felony charges, including two counts of aggravated murder. The verdict triggered a second trial phase, in which jurors are presented evidence that should help them decide if Nelson should be sentenced to death for his role in Gutierrez’s slaying.

If the jury does not unanimously agree to recommend the death penalty, Nelson will be sentenced to life in prison without parole, or life with a chance to apply for parole after 30 years.

“This is as serious as it gets in the courtroom,” Assistant Lane County District Attorney David Schwartz told jurors Tuesday while giving a brief opening statement.

Schwartz said in court that he expects the jury will conclude that the crimes committed by Nelson “are so horrible, so cold, so calculated and so unnecessary” that a death penalty is the proper sentence.

Members of the Gutierrez family did not indicate what penalty they believe is most appropriate.

According to trial evidence, Nelson and two other people previously convicted in the case schemed to kidnap and kill a stranger to use the victim’s car in a bank robbery in Mapleton.

The plot worked, starting when Gutierrez agreed to give Mercedes Crabtree a ride in his car after she appeared to have been stranded in the parking lot of the Brew and Cue tavern on Highway 99 in Eugene. Nelson and Crabtree had staged an argument outside the bar moments before Crabtree met Gutierrez there.

Crabtree had Gutierrez drive her to the nearby home of David Taylor. There, Nelson and Taylor inflicted a series of injuries upon Gutierrez before killing him.

The two men then dismembered Gutierrez’s body in a bathtub.

Hours later, Taylor, Nelson and Crabtree used Gutierrez’s car as the getaway vehicle in an armed, takeover-style robbery of a Siuslaw Bank branch in Mapleton.

Taylor, 60, was convicted of murder and sentenced to death in 2014. Crabtree, 22, is serving a life sentence with the possibility of parole after 30 years.

Laurie Bender, an attorney representing Nelson, said in her opening statement that her client endured a troubled upbringing and that his longtime psychological problems worsened after he joined the Army and served a combat tour in Afghanistan.

Bender said the sentencing-phase evidence will show that Nelson does not deserve a death sentence.

“We are confident you will spare Mr. Nelson his life,” Bender told jurors.

___

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


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