Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The Body in the Orange Grove


“My name is Micah Nelson and I’m currently serving time on Death Row...Despite all the harsh thing (sic) the Government may have said about Deathrow inmates we’re not all bad...” From the website of the Canadian Coalition Against the Death Penalty.


Avon Park is a small community in Highlands County, Florida. With less than 10,000 residents, the town sits near the center of the state about seventy miles south of Orlando. Many lakes and rivers make the area a sportsman’s paradise and a mild climate is conducive to its major crop: citrus.

There’s an average of only one murder a year in Avon Park.

That’s why investigators on the outskirts of town were shocked at the sight of 78-year-old Virginia Brace’s body. Micah Nelson, the killer, had led them down the sand trail to a grove of orange trees. He’d admitted breaking into Brace’s house and kidnapping and murdering her. He would not admit that he raped her but the evidence was clear as semen was discovered in and around the body. Looking down at the lifeless form, cops saw that the victim had endured a brutal attack during her last hours.

Court documents state that when found “the victim was wearing only a blue nightgown and there was a yellow powdery substance on her body around the face, mouth area, and ground.”

It had begun in the early morning of November 17, 1997. Micah Nelson left his aunt’s home after quarreling with his younger brother. A convicted burglar and sex offender, he was angry at the world. He walked through town until he came to a condominium located at 24 West Palmetto Street. A light was on in the living room and Nelson peered in.

He circled the building. All the doors and windows were locked except the bathroom window, which was cracked open. Nelson forced it all the way and entered the apartment.

Virginia Brace was a snowbird. She lived in her native New York for six months during the summer and in Avon Park for the rest of the year. That Sunday, the night before the murder, her friends Gary and Catherine Vellams had come by. They’d had dinner with their long-time friend and played cards until about nine o’clock. When they unsuccessfully tried to reach Brace the next day, they filed a missing persons report.

Brace was sleeping when Nelson broke in. Her glasses and hearing aids were on the nightstand next to the bed. Money she’d withdrawn from the bank was in her purse.

As he prowled the house, Nelson accidently kicked a table in the bedroom. Brace awoke and screamed.

Nelson pounced on the helpless woman. DNA tests later revealed that he raped her. After the assault, he forced her into the trunk of her car, a blue 1989 Ford Marquis. Nelson drove aimlessly, finally ending up in an orange grove in nearby Polk County. He later told investigators he planned to kill Brace and hide her body there. But while driving down the sand trail he got stuck.

At about 9:30 a.m., Nelson called a towing company. Steven Weir drove to the orange grove with his tow-truck and began to hitch the chains to the car. As he did so, he heard thumping in the trunk. Weir later testified that when he asked Nelson what was in there, he was told it was a dog. Then Nelson quickly turned the radio up. It blasted rap music so loudly that Weir couldn’t hear any other sounds coming from the trunk.

After being pulled out of the sand, Nelson sped off without even thanking Weir. He drove to another orange grove, this one near South Lake Buffam Road. Nelson dragged Brace from the trunk. According to court records, the ex-convict said he “started choking her [but she didn’t] lose consciousness. He became scared and started twisting her neck. She didn’t pass out so he returned to the vehicle and obtained the fire extinguisher. Nelson returned to the victim, stuck the nozzle of the hose in her mouth and sprayed two or three times; then he went back to the car and got the tire iron. He tried to push the tire iron into her mouth [and] she tried to push it out.” Nelson eventually used the tire iron to strangle Brace to death.

The white powdery substance on Brace’s face that investigators saw when they first arrived at the orange grove was the dried foam from the fire extinguisher.

Nelson was quickly arrested. The evidence was overwhelming. Steve Weir and a co-worker identified Nelson as the man whose car they’d pulled out of the orange grove. Numerous fingerprints that were identical to Nelson’s were found in Brace’s house and car. His DNA matched semen stains found on a bedspread in Brace’s bedroom and in her vagina. Shoe prints in the sand matched his shoes. He admitted the crime and led police to Brace’s body.

As a juvenile, Nelson had served time for incest. In 1995, he was sentenced to five years in prison for a series of burglaries. Even though he escaped from the county jail and was convicted of that crime as well as the burglaries, Nelson was released from state prison after serving less than two years of his sentence.

At trial, he was convicted of the first degree murder of Virginia Brace. The jury also tacked on guilty verdicts for kidnapping, grand theft, and burglary.

So far, Micah Nelson’s appeals have been futile. He currently resides at Raiford with all the other nice death row inmates.

1 comment:

Catherine said...

And he has a date with Old Sparky, I hope!