After deliberating for just under two hours, a jury found David Nelson guilty of manslaughter. The jury went out at 3:50 p.m. and came back at 5:40 p.m. A poll of the jurors revealed the vote was ten to two in favor of manslaughter. Nelson was charged with second degree murder which would have brought a life sentence upon conviction. With a manslaughter conviction, Nelson could get up to forty years in prison. His sentencing is set for 9 a.m., Wednesday May 23 before Judge Kent Savoie.
Earlier, in closing arguments, Prosecutor David Kimball said but for the barbaric act of David Nelson, Chad Heath would be alive today. He told jurors what makes Nelson's crime second degree murder is the way he sucker punched Heath without warning. Heath died after being hit and falling straight back and suffering a skull fracture.
But the defense argued the state's case is full of holes. Defense attorney Mike McHale argued medical records show Heath was hit four times-- not two--suggesting others were involved.
As well the defense suggested Plantation Club management and bouncers got together and came up with a story to protect their own self interests. For example no surveillance video could be located and provided to law enforcement.
Defense attorney Charlie St. Dizier called the state's "parade of witnesses" a charade. He said convicting Nelson does not honor the memory of Heath.
But on rebuttal Kimball said it was ridiculous, absurd and insulting to the community, law enforcement and the D.A. to suggest that everyone got together and conspired to blame "the guy from Florida." Kimball told jurors Chad Heath is dead because of one person-- David Nelson-- and that justice requires that they find Nelson guilty as charged of second degree murder.
Lesser verdicts the jury could convict Nelson of are manslaughter and negligent homicide. Ten of twelve jurors must agree for a verdict to be reached.
Earlier, the state and defense rested in the trial. Defense attorneys met privately with Nelson after the state rested and emerged saying they rest. So, the defense decided against putting on evidence.
A defendant is innocent until proven guilty and is under no obligation to put on evidence.
The state's last witness was Calcasieu Coroner Dr. Terry Welke, who told jurors, "You put down your money and you take your chances," with reference to the likelihood of someone being killed after being punched in the face and falling to the ground. That is, what kills one person might not necessarily kill another.
Jurors saw pictures of Heath's face and hands after his death during testimony by Welke. Welke testified Heath died of a head injury and that bruising on his face was consistent with him being punched.
Welke says Heath's skull fracture to the back of his head, would likely have been fatal or, if he had lived, would have left him in what they call a vegetative state. Welke says the skull fracture is consistent with Heath falling backwards onto the pavement after being hit.
According to testimony, Nelson weighed About 90 pounds more than Heath and was about four inches taller. Nelson has evidently lost weight since the incident in 2009.
Earlier, jurors heard an audio tape of David Nelson when a deputy questioned him in connection with the injury suffered by Heath at the Plantation Strip Club March 29, 2009. During that incident Heath was still in the hospital in Lafayette.
On tape, Nelson said he and his cousin had been surrounded by bouncers in the parking lot and that at one point he was wrestled to the ground. On tape, Nelson told the deputy, "They hit me first." and that he was defending himself. Nelson can be heard crying on the tape after being told by the deputy that Heath had undergone brain surgery and was in very bad condition. Heath died on April first.
Deputy Randy Curtis told Nelson during the interview that witnesses had identified him as the one who struck Heath. Curtis admits many witnesses didn't want to talk because they didn't want someone at home to know they had been to the strip club.
The man Nelson had been in the club with, his cousin, was kicked out for allegedly touching the girls performing in the club. Witnesses who are bouncers said club policy was to give three warnings and then kick patrons out if they again touched dancers.
According to testimony Nelson weighed About 90 pounds more than Heath and was about four inches taller.