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Man who cut reverend's throat heads to prison

Nelson will spend 15 years behind bars, 15 year on extended supervision

October 13, 2010 | 08:56 AM
Elkhorn — In what prosecutors painted as a domestic abuse crime, a 23-year-old man who cut a reverend's throat while out on bond for another violent crime will spend the next 15 years in a state prison.

Martin J. Nelson, who lived in rural Whitewater, also was sentenced to 15 years of extended supervision. Nelson previously pleaded guilty to first-degree attempted homicide after he cut the Rev. Michael L. Obinger's throat Aug. 20 in La Grange Township.

During Tuesday afternoon's proceedings, Nelson apologized to Obinger for the attack and the "embarrassment these proceedings have put him through."

"I do know what I did was wrong," Nelson told Walworth County Circuit Court Judge David Reddy. "I'm ready to accept the consequences, whatever they may be."

When Obinger addressed the court, he asked that Nelson receive mental health treatment. He also told the court the attack didn't have a great impact on him.

Obinger said he never lost enough blood to feel woozy or lose consciousness. In fact, Obinger drove himself to the Whitewater Police Department after the incident.

"I never believed his intention was to kill me," he said.

However, Assistant District Attorney Diane Donohoo said Obinger's response was similar to that of other victims involved in domestic abuse situations.

"It is very common with domestic abuse cases for the victim to speak on behalf of the offender to minimize the intent of the offender," Donohoo said.

Donohoo asked the state to give Nelson the maximum sentence, which is 40 years of confinement and 20 years of extended supervision.

"This is a very frightening human being that is cold, calculated and dangerous and he acts on it," Donohoo said.

Nelson's defense attorney, Stephen Kramer, said the maximum sentence was far too harsh and didn't match what two separate presentence investigation reports recommended. A pre-sentence investigation report was prepared by the Department of Corrections and called for 13 years of confinement and six of extended supervision. The defense also had a report prepared that called for less prison time.

"I'm not surprised by the recommendation of the state, but I am sickened by it," he said.

Kramer said his client has been a victim of sexual, emotional and physical abuse throughout periods of time during his entire life.

"This would be the perfect formula for a monster, but he is not a monster," Kramer said.

Kramer said Nelson should complete a prison term and then should receive rehabilitation in the community. He also said Donohoo shouldn't discount Obinger's request that Nelson should receive mental health treatment.

"What I find amazing is when the state has a victim who wants to scream and shout we listen to it," Kramer said.

However, he said when the victim asks for a compassionate sentence they are discounted.

Kramer also raised concerns with "warehousing" Nelson for the next 40 years.

"We are going to take the most fragile defendant who has to be placed in the snake pit that is a prison," Kramer said.

Donohoo said Nelson has a violent history, which includes another attack with a knife and a separate incident with a hammer.

In another incident, when Nelson was 13, he attempted to poison his foster father by placing mercury in his food. However, another a child in the residence ate the tainted food and was hospitalized.

"We are dealing with a very dangerous human being," Donohoo said.

According to Donohoo, Nelson cut phone lines, hide Obinger's cell phone and pretended to call 911 after the attack.

"He made no effort to help this victim," she said.

Donohoo said police discovered letters written by Obinger to Nelson that indicate the relationship was ending, which she said was motivation for the crime.

"Mr. Obinger wanted a sexual relationship, but the defendant didn't want it," she said.

Before and after the crime was committed, Nelson sent text messages to friends where he discussed partying and sex.

"His social trait is he can slice a guy, not lift a finger to help him and then worry about having a good time with his friends. This is a dangerous man," Donohoo said.

However, Kramer said Nelson also drank mercury after the incident and considered suicide.

On June 15, Nelson was involved in a domestic abuse case with a boyfriend, Scott A. Hayes. Hayes didn't appear during Tuesday's sentencing hearing.

After that incident, Obinger retained attorney David Danz to defend Nelson. Those charges were dismissed but read into the record.

On that day, he was arrested for second-offense drunken driving. Reddy sentenced Nelson to 30 days in jail for that charge.

Reddy said Nelson has a history of undesirable behavior, but said this wasn't a maximum sentence case. However, he believed prison was appropriate.

"Especially in light of the quickly accelerating violent behavior," Reddy said.

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