Accused withdraws guilty pleas, human trafficking trial underway

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NEW BOSTON, Texas: A man accused of trading drugs for sex with five teen girls who pleaded guilty to seven felonies Tuesday withdrew his pleas Wednesday and elected to let a jury decide.

Kenneth Dewayne Nelson, 63, pleaded guilty Tuesday morning to five counts of continuous trafficking of persons and two counts of sexual assault of a child but asked that a jury decide his sentence. Nelson’s attorney, Charles Johnson of Houston, told 5th District Judge Bill Miller on Wednesday that Nelson had changed his mind and wanted a jury to decide whether he is guilty.

Miller allowed Nelson to withdraw his plea but declined to schedule the case for a second round of jury selection at Johnson’s request. Johnson told Miller he is concerned the current jury of five men and seven women is “hopelessly tainted” because they were told Tuesday during jury selection that Nelson already pleaded guilty and they would decide only the issue of punishment.

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Assistant District Attorney Kelley Crisp objected.

“If they’re tainted, it’s because the defense tainted the panel,” Crisp said. “You don’t get to arrange your own mistrial. If the defense changes strategy, it’s not the state’s fault.”

Johnson expressed concern that he could be faulted as a lawyer by a higher court.

“Trial strategy is the purview of counsel while constitutional rights are purview of the defendant,” Johnson argued.

Miller sided with the state and the trial began with Nelson entering pleas of not guilty to all charges to the jury chosen Tuesday.

Department of Public Safety Special Agent Briscoe Davis testified that he assisted the FBI and Texarkana, Texas, police with an investigation into a different case that led him to Nelson, under questioning by Assistant District Attorney Lauren Richards. Davis said he believes Nelson was selling to methamphetamine to John Littleton, who would then give the drug to teen girls in exchange for sex. Littleton was charged with crimes similar to Nelson’s before he was found dead in his home earlier this month.

Four of the five girls named as victims in the trafficking counts took the stand Wednesday. The girl identified as “victim one” in the trafficking charges is the same girl named as a victim in the two counts of sexual assault of a child. The sexual assault charges concern Nelson’s alleged misconduct with that girl when she was under the age of 14.

The alleged victims testified that they became acquainted with Nelson through each other. One of the girls testified that she met Nelson through her mother and began buying marijuana from him. The girl said Nelson began offering to give her the marijuana for free if she would have sex with him.

Some of the alleged victims testified that Nelson not only gave them cash and marijuana, but Xanax and methamphetamine as well. The girls said they began having sex with Nelson more frequently after becoming addicted to methamphetamine because they wanted more of the drug.

The state rested its case Wednesday afternoon. Miller instructed to retun to court Thursday morning to begin hearing testimony from defense witnesses.

Nelson faces two to 20 years on each count of sexual assault of a child and 25 to 99 years or life on each count of continuous trafficking of persons.

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