Derrick Nelson, right, consults with his attorney, Donna Smith, during his trial Wednesday. Photo by: Alex Holloway/Dispatch Staff
May 19, 2016 10:17:01 AM
Moments after the man accused of killing his brother was convicted, Chris Lewis stood in Lowndes County Circuit Court and said justice could not have come at a better time.
Willie Hood Jr., 29, was shot in the head on May 18, 2013. The man accused of killing him -- Derrick Nelson, 22 -- was convicted Wednesday, exactly three years later.
May 18 is also the birthday of Hood's mother.
"My brother was killed on my mother's birthday," Lewis said told the court after the jury returned its verdict. "This is the best birthday gift I could have ever given my mother."
16th Circuit Judge Jim Kitchens sentenced Nelson to life in prison following his conviction of first-degree murder.
Nelson was accused of killing Hood, his mother's boyfriend, at Nelson's residence on Pine Street in Columbus. The shooting happened during a graduation party at about 1:30 a.m. on May 18, 2013, according to authorities.
Wilson turned himself in after the shooting. His bond was set at $1 million.
Tina Davidson-Brooks, an assistant district attorney who prosecuted Nelson, said the circumstances that led to Hood's death and Nelson's subsequent conviction are unfortunate.
"This was a tragic case," she said. "After three years, I think the family finally got closure on this case."
Donna Smith, one of Nelson's defense attorneys, said the case didn't turn out the way she and fellow defense attorney Brandon Langford had hoped it would.
The defense will begin the appeals process, according to Smith.
Both sides presented their final arguments before the court gave Nelson's case to jurors.
Smith said Nelson acted to defend himself. She said Hood was drunk, with a blood alcohol level of .21 -- almost three times higher than the legal driving limit. Hood was belligerent, Smith said, because he wanted his car keys.
She acknowledged, as witnesses testified earlier in the trial, that Hood and Nelson had a history of arguments.
"There is a long history of altercations, and they've never ended in any violence before," she said. "As far as we know, deadly weapons were not introduced in any of those fights. This fight was different because Willie Hood was so drunk he didn't know what he was doing."
Davidson-Brooks, in the second half of the state's closing argument, said Hood's intoxication was no excuse for him to die.
"The defense argues that Mr. Hood had been drinking on that night at the graduation party on May 18, 2013," she said. "Did he deserve to die because he had some drinks?"
Smith said Nelson was trying to defend himself from Hood while they fought. She said Hood was 70 pounds heavier than Nelson.
"If you can't use self-defense to protect yourself from somebody who's swinging around beer bottles, beating his own car, breaking a window in his own car, who locks up with you, I don't know anything you could possibly use self-defense for," Smith said.
Prosecutor Armstrong Walters, however, questioned the defense's claims that the shooting happened by accident while Nelson was trying to defend himself from Hood.
Nelson, in a statement presented during Tuesday's testimony, said the gun "went off" while he was struggling with Hood.
But Walters said that a medical examiner, who also testified Tuesday, said that there wasn't any soot or residue on Hood's body. He said that's typical of a shot fired from more than two feet away.
New administration's first trial
Nelson's trial was the first for District Attorney Scott Colom's administration since he took over the position in January.
Colom said he's prioritized moving old cases that have stagnated in the system -- especially for violent or sexual crimes, because those crimes have victims who, he said, deserve justice.
"To me, this just means that the family got justice and the criminal justice system worked," Colom said. "When I campaigned, I said I would prioritize violent crime and hired assistant district attorneys who understood that priority and executed it well. Today, we got justice."
Alex Holloway was formerly a reporter with The Dispatch.
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