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Nelson sentenced to 20 years at state hospital

| December 21, 2006 11:00 PM

By BRENT SHRUM Western News Editor

One year to the day after he was shot three times during a confrontation at the Eureka police station, Mark Nelson was sentenced to 20 years in the state mental hospital.

Nelson pleaded guilty last month to two counts each of assault on a peace officer and assault with a weapon. In return, the county attorney's office agreed to dismiss an attempted deliberate homicide charge and to recommend two 20-year and two 10-year sentences, to run concurrently, at the state hospital at Warm Springs.

In sentencing Nelson on Monday, Judge Michael Prezeau followed the plea agreement despite testimony from three of Nelson's victims advocating a harsher sentence.

Eureka police officer Ian Jeffcock said Nelson came to the station under the influence of drugs and alcohol and with "an arsenal," planning to engage in a gun battle. He said audio recordings of Nelson's armed attempt to have his daughter released from custody following her arrest during a disturbance at the Eureka Veterans of Foreign Wars club should be heard at trial.

"His daughter taunted him, screaming 'Just shoot the bastard,'" Jeffcock said.

Nelson, who had entered through a door that had been left open for an ambulance crew preparing to transport his daughter for a mental evaluation, fired a single round of buckshot toward Jeffcock after Jeffcock commanded him to back away. Jeffcock fired five rounds and hit Nelson once in the abdomen and twice in the thigh. A second round from Nelson's shotgun also missed Jeffcock.

The public feels Nelson's daughter, Jennifer, and her boyfriend, Christopher Showen - who accompanied Mark Nelson to the police station and was found waiting outside in a car with three guns and ammunition - "essentially got away with it," Jeffcock said.

Jennifer Nelson received a three-year deferred sentence after pleading guilty to two counts of assault on a peace officer and one count of making threats in official matters. Showen entered an Alford plea - not admitting guilt but accepting a conviction - to charges of conspiracy to commit assault with a weapon and received a suspended sentence, which was revoked in September following his arrest in Kalispell for a number of probation violations. He is currently serving five years in the state prison, County Attorney Bernie Cassidy said Monday.

Eureka ambulance volunteer John Hannay attempted to give Prezeau a petition he said had been signed by 118 people who opposed the recommended sentence, but the judge said he could not accept it. Hannay said Nelson should receive the maximum sentence possible and discounted the fact that Nelson has been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder stemming from his military service in Vietnam.

"Whether or not Mr. Nelson was suffering from mental illness I don't believe had anything to do with it," he said.

Nelson's actions are inexcusable, whether he is mentally ill or not, said ambulance volunteer Justin Kearney.

"His blatant disregard for our lives and any others makes him a threat to society," Kearney said.

Cassidy acknowledged that he had "struggled" with the case, and said the sentence is "in no way meant to downplay the seriousness of what happened in Eureka a year ago today."

He said the plea agreement represented a compromise and avoided the risk of a not guilty verdict at trial.

Nelson took the stand and said he hoped the victims could forgive him for what he put them through. He thanked the police officers and ambulance volunteers for saving his life and said he hadn't meant to hurt anyone.

"It was never my intent to harm a soul, and I didn't harm a soul," he said.

Of all people, Nelson should know that might not be true, Prezeau said.

"For you to sit up here and say you didn't harm anyone - you don't know," he said.

Prezeau said he sometimes disagrees with sentences recommended in plea agreements, "but I have to tell you this isn't one of them."

"I happen to think the sentence in this case is appropriate," he said.

Prezeau added that "victims probably aren't the best people to be picking punishment." He referred to an incident several years ago in which someone - "probably an unhappy customer" - set fire to his garage.

"It probably wouldn't have been a good idea for me to sentence that person if they'd been caught," he said.