Colorado Springs war vet arrested in Oregon murder
The Gazette (Colorado Springs, Colo.)
COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — An Afghanistan war veteran who was granted immunity in exchange for turning state’s witness in a 2010 drive-by killing in Colorado Springs has been accused in a man’s slaying in Eugene, Ore., court records show.
A.J. Scott Nelson, 22, was arrested Aug. 9 on suspicion of intentional murder and is being held without bond in the Lane County Jail in Eugene, jail records show.
The case involves the disappearance of 22-year-old Celestino Gutierrez Jr., who went missing Aug. 3 after leaving a Eugene bar, according to news reports by the Eugene Register-Guard.
Also charged with murder are 18-year-old Mercedes Leann Crabtree and 56-year-old David Ray Taylor. Taylor was on parole after serving a 27-year sentence in the 1977 murder of a Eugene gas station attendant, the newspaper reported.
Authorities in Eugene haven’t disclosed how Gutierrez was killed or what evidence they believe ties the trio to the crime.
Nelson, who was injured by a roadside bomb in 2009 while serving in Afghanistan with Fort Carson’s 4th Brigade Combat Team, emerged as a key witness in murder trials focusing on the Sept. 26, 2010, shooting death of Christopher Harmon in Colorado Springs. Harmon, 26, was walking with a friend toward the front entrance of a Walmart on Chelton Road when someone opened fire from a Dodge Charger in the parking lot, hitting Harmon in the chest.
After being threatened with accessory to murder charges, Nelson testified that he saw 20-year-old driver Frank Lee Miller pass a loaded pistol to then-17-year-old Jordan Ellis in the backseat and ordered the younger man to shoot someone at random.
Under terms of his immunity deal, which prosecutors affirmed at Miller’s trial, Nelson couldn’t be charged based on his testimony.
Miller and Ellis were both convicted of murder in the shooting.
At Miller’s trial, public defenders Deana Feist and Kim Chalmers accused Nelson of bending the truth in exchange for a free pass. Then-prosecutor Nathan Whitney acknowledged the immunity deal and said Nelson’s testimony was critical to landing convictions against Miller and Ellis.
Court records in Colorado show that Nelson failed to appear in court July 19 on traffic citations for driving without insurance and without a license.
Nelson served as an infantryman from July 2008 to May 2012, when he was discharged at the rank of specialist, according to Army Resources Command at Fort Knox, Ky. The nature of his separation wasn’t disclosed.
He received a Purple Heart during a 2009 deployment to Afghanistan, Army records show.
At Miller’s trial, Nelson testified that his Humvee was hit by a several-hundred pound roadside bomb on his first mission in Afghanistan, causing injuries to his jaw and ankle.
The force of the blast threw him out of his seat in the gunner’s nest, but a harness he wore kept him inside, he told the jury.
Nelson befriended Ellis while recuperating in Colorado Springs. He later returned to complete the tour with his unit, which included Miller. Nelson introduced Miller and Ellis when the unit was redeployed, according to testimony.
Prosecutors tied the drive-by shooting in Colorado Springs to Ellis’ initiation rite into what they called “The Gang of Frank.”
Gazette reporter Jakob Rodgers contributed to this report.