A well-liked Idaho man was kidnapped and brutally beaten by a pair of homophobic thugs and later died of his injuries in what has been classified as a federal hate crime. Another Idaho man is facing first-degree murder charges, though he claims he never intended to kill the victim.
Steve Nelson, 49, had responded to what he thought was an escort ad posted on Backpage by Kelly Schneider, and drove to meet him on April 30 at a Walmart. At Schneider’s request, the men drove to a remote area where another man was waiting for them. According to court documents obtained by the Washington Post, the two men pinned Nelson down, kicked him with steel-toed boots, choked him and stripped him naked before taking off in his car with his wallet. Nelson managed to walk a half-a-mile to the closest homes, begging someone to call 911, but he would die of cardiac arrest hours later in a Boise hospital. He was able to describe his attackers to investigators before he died.
On Monday, Schneider, 23, pled guilty to first-degree murder, a plea deal that meant prosecutors dropped additional charges of felony robbery, theft and robbery conspiracy. In a court appearance, Schneider acknowledged that his actions resulted in Nelson’s death, admitted to kicking the victim repeatedly, but said he did not intend to kill him — just rob him. Schneider has also been indicted on federal hate crime charges as a federal grand jury determined that Schneider targeted Nelson because of his sexual orientation.
The second alleged attacker and two man accused of being accomplices — who reportedly hid in nearby woods in case Nelson put up more of a fight — are facing numerous charges, including first-degree murder, robbery, and conspiracy.
During Schneider’s arraignment in May, Deputy Canyon County Prosecutor Chris Boyd said the suspect had lured and beaten victims in similar circumstances “many, many times before,” adding that Nelson’s assault was “particularly brutal.”
Nelson was in his 40s when he enrolled at the University of Idaho for a Bachelor’s Degree, and made a deep impression on the academic community there.
“He knew the value of education, perhaps more than an 18-year-old freshman would,” Professor Kenton Bird, former director of the School of Journalism, told the Idaho Statesman. “He was among the few students who would sit at the front of the classroom, who would ask questions, who would engage with the guest speakers after they had finished.”
At the time of his death, Nelson worked for the University Advancement Team at Boise State University. Adriane Bang, director of the Gender Equity Center at Boise State University, spoke of the community’s grief and fear to the Washington Post.
“Folks are grieving the loss of a fellow colleague, as well as facing the reality that our community can be a hostile and sometimes very dangerous place for folks who identify as LGBTQIA,” Bang said.