Nelson case shows larger issue | SteamboatToday.com

Nelson case shows larger issue

Attorney, witness to speak about race at CU Law School

Mike McCollum

Steamboat Springs High School freshman Randall Nelson is shown here after basketball practice Jan. 10. A social mixer and tennis exhibition will be held March 2 at the Tennis Center at Steamboat Springs to help the Nelson family pay legal bills.

— Almost six weeks after 15-year-old Randall Nelson was found not guilty of assault and disorderly conduct charges stemming from a racially charged February 2007 incident that left another boy with a broken jaw, legal and financial ramifications remain for the family.

In defending his son, now a freshman at Steamboat Springs High School, Brad Nelson learned a tough lesson: Good legal defense doesn’t come cheap.

“If you want the best, you pay for the best,” said Brad Nelson, who faces more than $40,000 in legal fees and other expenses related to his son’s defense.

The legal bill for the family’s Steamboat Springs attorney, Kris Hammond, is about $25,000.

“I’m sure I put in more than 100 hours of work into the defense,” Hammond said. “With having an expert witness, who they had to drive up to Steamboat twice from Denver, having to pay for his expenses and transportation, and also having hired an investigator to work on the case, it’s possible they accumulated around an additional $15,000.”

Hammond’s work on the case included interviewing witnesses, finding expert testimony and time spent in numerous hearings preceding the trial, including the prosecution’s attempt to block the Nelsons’ expert witness, Dr. Wilbert Miles, a psychologist.

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Hammond’s legal work on the case may be over – neither he nor the Nelsons expect the victim’s family, which has moved out of the area, to file a civil case – but the case still is making waves in the legal community.

Hammond and Miles will speak to University of Colorado at Boulder Law School students today to discuss the Nelsons’ case and the larger issue of how black youths are treated in the American judicial system.

During Randall Nelson’s years at Steamboat Springs Middle School, the other boy allegedly taunted and threatened Randall because of his race. Randall also spoke out against harassment in Steamboat schools when he was in fifth grade.

Administrators depicted the incident as a wake-up call about harassment in local schools, which prompted a revamp in policies for the Steamboat Springs School District – where 91.7 percent of students are white, according to enrollment figures for the 2007-08 school year.

“Our defense was self-defense, but you can’t have a defense where you punched someone because they made you mad,” said Hammond, who noted that Miles demonstrated to the jury that Randall Nelson indeed was threatened.

“He helped explain the constant use of the “N” word by the victim created in Randall’s mind a threat,” Hammond said. “There is no other word like it in the English language. It conveys a threat without coming out and saying it. … There is no nice way for a white person to say that to a black person, regardless what the meaning is.”

Brad Nelson said he’s proud that his son’s harassment shed light on racial intolerance, but that lesson came with a heavy price. The mounting legal bills may force the family to move from Steamboat, where they have lived for more than 10 years.

“That’s still definitely in the cards, no doubt,” he said. “My wife has been on a medical leave of absence for seven to eight months because of the stress of this, and one income in Steamboat doesn’t quite make it. : Due to financial reasons, we may have to jump ship here, unfortunately.”

Some Steamboat residents are determined to keep the Nelsons from leaving.

On Sunday, a social mixer and tennis exhibition will be held at the Tennis Center of Steamboat Springs to benefit the Randall Nelson Defense Fund.

“It’s almost regrettable that we are going to throw him back in the spotlight again, but, at the same time, Brad said (Randall) understands he has a greater statement to make now,” said Jim Swiggart, who helped organize the fundraiser.

There is a $25 minimum donation at the event, which will feature an exhibition doubles match with Swiggart and his wife, Stacy Swiggart, against tennis pros Marie Matrka and Andy Caress.

Patti Asbury, who also helped organize the exhibition and mixer, said the event is about keeping a community asset – the Nelsons – in Steamboat for the long haul.

“We want this to be a happy occasion,” she said. “This is like the grand finale for all the family has gone through.”

If you go

What: Tennis exhibition benefiting the Randall Nelson Defense Fund

When: Tennis mixer from 3 to 5 p.m. and exhibition match from 5 to 6 p.m., Sunday

Where: The Tennis Center at Steamboat Springs on Pine Grove Road

Cost: $25 minimum donation

Contact: Register at the Tennis Center Pro Shop or call 879-8400

How to help

To help the Nelson family with legal bills, make a non-tax deductible check to the “Randall Nelson Defense Fund” at Wells Fargo Bank, PO Box 774888, Steamboat Springs, CO., 80477-4888