Omaima Nelson, an Egyptian-born woman who claimed she killed and dismembered her husband because she could no longer endure his physical and sexual abuse, was convicted Tuesday of second-degree murder in one of Orange County's most grisly slayings.
Despite feeling some pity for the woman, the eight-woman, four-man jury did not entirely believe her claims about her relationship with pilot William E. Nelson, 56, who was slain over Thanksgiving weekend in 1991 and then butchered in the Costa Mesa apartment the newlyweds shared, the jury foreman said after the verdict.
The Orange County Superior Court jury deliberated six days before acquitting Nelson of first-degree murder, concluding there was insufficient evidence to prove the slaying was premeditated, despite the extensive mutilation of the body, said foreman Famous Hooks, 35, of Fountain Valley. But the jury found her guilty of the lesser offense of second-degree murder.
Jurors were disturbed by evidence presented during the trial, which included tales of bondage sex games, decapitation, castration and even an allegation of cannibalism, said Hooks, who spoke on behalf of the 11 other jurors.
"All I want to do right now is go home and go to bed," said Hooks, who said evidence photos of dismembered body parts will be hard to erase from memory. "You had to see the pictures (of the victim). The pictures were bad enough."
Omaima Nelson, 26, who wept after the verdicts were read, was also convicted of assaulting Robert Hannson of Huntington Beach in November, 1990. Prosecutors charged that Nelson tied Hannson up and demanded money from him at gunpoint, but jurors acquitted Nelson of false imprisonment and attempted robbery.
Jurors also determined that she used a knife in the attack on her husband and used a gun in the assault on Hannson, a former boyfriend. Those determinations will add as much as six years to her sentence.
Nelson faces a maximum penalty of 28 years to life in prison when she is sentenced on Feb. 26, including 10 years in prison for assaulting Hannson with a gun and 18 years to life in prison for the slaying of William Nelson and the use of a knife.
If she receives the maximum penalty, Nelson could be eligible for parole in the year 2007, he said.
During the trial, Deputy Public Defender Thomas G. Mooney portrayed Omaima Nelson as an abused woman who turned on her attacker. Mooney insisted that his client is not guilty, said he was disappointed with the verdict and vowed to seek a new trial for his client.
"She is the victim," he said. "She was the victim of an assault and attempted rape that night."
Deputy Dist. Atty. Randolph J. Pawloski, however, described Omaima Nelson as a "predator." The prosecutor told jurors that Omaima Nelson planned to flee the area with her husband's cash, credit cards and car after the slaying.
The trial was marked by graphic testimony about the dismemberment of William Nelson.
In testimony that left the courtroom audience transfixed, Omaima Nelson told jurors that she stabbed and beat her new husband to death to stop him from attempting to rape her. She said that after the slaying she "freaked out," fell into a trance-like state, and spent 12 hours hacking up the body to simplify disposal.
A neighbor reported constant chopping sounds and grinding of the garbage disposal in the Nelson apartment throughout the night, according to Pawloski.
Omaima Nelson admitted cooking her husband's head, boiling his hands to remove the fingerprints and mixing up body parts with leftover Thanksgiving Day turkey to hide the remains in a trash bin.
Omaima Nelson also admitted castrating Bill Nelson in revenge for his sexual assaults on her. Prosecutors said William Nelson's lower body and torso were skinned.
Statements by Omaima Nelson's psychiatrist proved even more gruesome. Dr. David J. Sheffner, who diagnosed her as psychotic, said Omaima Nelson told him that she dressed up in a red hat, red high-heel shoes and red lipstick as part of a ritual during the nightlong dismemberment.
She also told Sheffner that she ate William Nelson's ribs after cooking them in barbecue sauce.
" 'I did his ribs just like in a restaurant,' " Sheffner quoted Nelson as saying. She said she sat at the kitchen table with Bill Nelson's cooked remains and said out loud: "It's so sweet, it's so delicious. . . . I like mine tender,"' the doctor recalled.
Investigators found Bill Nelson's body parts stuffed in garbage bags, but some parts were never found.
During the trial, Pawloski sarcastically asked Omaima Nelson for help in finding all the evidence. He said investigators had not yet found all the "meat" from the large man.
"We're missing about 130 pounds of Bill. You know where he might have gone?" Pawloski asked.
"No, he was all there," Nelson said.
Sheffner said Omaima Nelson later denied eating her husband's remains. The doctor said he has never seen anything "so bizarre, so psychotic" in his 20 years of practice.
Omaima Nelson was arrested Dec. 2, 1991, after seeking a friend's help in disposing of her husband's body parts. The friend agreed but called police instead.
Omaima Nelson testified that she had suffered sexual and physical abuse while growing up in Egypt, where she was forced to undergo a circumcision, a mutilation of the female genitalia that is practiced in some parts of the world.
Nelson, who came to the United States in 1986, said the operation left her unable to enjoy sex. She said she found herself in one abusive relationship after another. But after meeting William Nelson in October, 1991, she said she agreed to sex several times a day because she believed that she was in love.
The couple married within days of meeting. Omaima Nelson said it wasn't until their honeymoon visit to his family in the Midwest that she learned of her husband's violent streak.
William Nelson would become enraged if she refused his requests for "kinky" sex that involved bondage and would beat her, she testified. He once punished her by throwing her newfound kitten out the car window.
" 'I paid for you, I'm getting what I paid for,' " Omaima Nelson recalled her husband screaming. Omaima Nelson said her husband raped and beat her several times, including once when she threatened to leave him.
She said William Nelson was sexually assaulting her during the 1991 Thanksgiving weekend when she grabbed a pair of scissors and stabbed him repeatedly. She said she then beat him with an iron and other objects until he died, then began dismembering the body. Pawloski told jurors that Omaima Nelson was lying about her claims that she was abused. He told jurors that William Nelson was the victim in the case and that the evidence shows that his ankles had been bound during a struggle moments before his death.
"When you have a case like this, it's hard to walk outside a courtroom and say you're happy, but I'm pleased with the verdict and I believe the family is, too," Pawloski said after the verdicts were announced.
Hooks said some jurors believed Omaima Nelson's claims of abuse, while others did not. Despite the sensational nature of the trial, they tried to focus on the evidence, he said.
"It was really a tough, tough decision. We couldn't come back (with a first-degree murder verdict) because we couldn't find the evidence. It wasn't there," Hooks said. "It took us six days. We worked really hard."
Times staff writer Mark I. Pinsky contributed to this report.
Dec. 1: Police investigating a tip find the remains of William E. Nelson, 56, inside an automobile parked outside his Costa Mesa apartment. Nelson's body has been hacked apart, the pieces wrapped in newspaper and stuffed into a trash bag. More body parts are found inside Nelson's apartment.
Dec. 2: Nelson's Egyptian-born wife, Omaima, is arrested on suspicion of murder.
Feb. 21: Omaima Nelson pleads not guilty to a charge of first-degree murder.
Dec. 10: Nelson testifies that her husband of five weeks physically and sexually abused her. She claims she killed him in self-defense, castrated him out of revenge and boiled his head and hands. Prosecutors said his lower body and torso were skinned. Her attorney argues she suffered a breakdown as a result of abuse that began in childhood and continued during her relationship with her husband.
Dec. 18: Nelson's attorney asks the jury to disregard the victim's mutilation when considering the verdict because "she was in a psychotic state at the time, she wasn't rational."
Jan. 4: Case goes to the jury.
Jan. 12: After six days of deliberation, the jury finds Nelson, 26, guilty of second-degree murder.
Source: Times files
Researched by JANICE L. JONES / Los Angeles Times