Reporting from Chowchilla, Calif. -- A woman who killed, dismembered and cooked her husband was deemed a risk to society and denied parole Wednesday in a lengthy and at times emotional hearing.
Omaima Nelson, 43, a former nanny commonly compared to the fictional cannibal killer Hannibal Lecter at the time of the murder in 1991, held that she was a changed woman, eager to live the "good life God meant."
But first came the recounting of Nelson's earlier life: by her account, the victim of almost unimaginable abuse as a child in Egypt. Later, a beauty with cut-glass cheekbones, who by prosecution accounts, traded on her sexuality for rent and cars from a long, overlapping line of men — most of them older.
Orange County Senior Deputy Dist. Atty. Randy Pawloski, an original prosecutor in the case who took the unusual step of personally attending the hearing at the Central California Women's Facility in Chowchilla, said Nelson had a pattern of using sex as a con game, and that her games grew increasingly violent over the years.
In 1991 she met William Nelson in a bar playing pool, and within weeks they were married. Omaima Nelson says it was only then that her husband showed a violent side. She said he was trying to strangle her when she hit him with a lamp, stabbed him with scissors and killed him.
"If I didn't defend my life, I would have been dead. I'm sorry it happened, but I'm glad I lived," she said.
"I'm sorry I dismembered him."
The marriage lasted three weeks.
"The honeymoon ended as dramatically as any in American history," Pawloski told the two-person panel, echoing an opinion that appellate court Justice William Bedsworth wrote in 2000 upholding her murder conviction
In the earlier court trial, a psychiatrist testified that Nelson said she put on red shoes, a red hat and red lipstick before chopping up and cooking her husband's body. She said she prepared his ribs like in a restaurant and said aloud, "It's so sweet."
At the parole hearing, Nelson shook her head vehemently and grimaced as she denied eating her husband.
"I swear to God I did not eat any part of him. I am not a monster," she said.
Commissioner Cynthia Fritz then asked, "What was your purpose in cooking him?"
Nelson declined to answer.
Nelson, her straight, black hair hanging almost to her waist, her face only gently lined with age, said she was not the person she was 20 years ago, a woman who "refused to let go of any pain anyone had ever caused her."
She said she had "looked for love in all the wrong places ... but now I value my integrity and my journey.... I have a strong desire to help others."
She told the board that she was grateful for the grace of God and her family and if released would return to live with her mother in Egypt.
As evidence of change, she cited visits she shared with her deceased latest husband, a man in his 70s whom she married while in prison.
"We had three-day conjugal visits," she said. "There were knives in the kitchen. He never felt threatened or endangered in any way. I loved him so much."
The last person to speak before deliberations was Nelson's 35-year-old daughter, Margaret.
It took her several moments to compose herself before she could read a written statement about not having her father at her wedding, or being able to introduce him to her 8-week-old daughter.
She revealed that her father had invited her to that fateful Thanksgiving dinner to meet his new wife. She had angrily refused, but she said he had remained kind and patient.
Margaret Nelson said the reason she was at the hearing was to "return some human dignity to the man who was my father."
Abandoning her written notes, she tearfully looked straight at the two-person board.
"I don't know the adequate punishment for a murderer who doesn't even leave a family a body to mourn over. But I do know you don't let her out," she said.