Norfolk man sentenced to decades in jail for sex assault
MADISON — It’s the kind of thing that no parent — no community member — ever wants to think can happen.
That’s what Judge James Kube said in district court about a Norfolk man convicted of first-degree sexual assault, before sentencing him to 20-25 years in prison.
William J. Nelson, 26, had previously pleaded guilty to the charge and appeared before Kube Thursday morning for sentencing.
According to court records, the victim — who had just turned 15 when the assaults began in 2014 — spoke with law enforcement about her experiences in June.
The victim told officers that the sexual relationship was consensual, but that she had tried to “break up with Nelson many times in the past.” She said Nelson had always threatened to kill himself when she did so.
The relationship between the pair had been ongoing through the spring of this year.
Though the physical relationship between the victim and Nelson was not forcible, it is considered sexual assault due to the ages of the victim and of Nelson, who was 22 at the time.
In court Thursday, Kube asked Nelson if he had become suicidal when the victim had tried to break up with him.
“It wasn’t necessarily that I became suicidal. I struggle with depression. I’m on medication, I go to a therapist. ... I just thought it would be better for my daughter to have a dead dad than a sex offender dad,” Nelson said.
He is divorced and has a 6-year-old daughter who lives in another state with his ex-wife.
Kube said the pre-sentence investigation (PSI) reports Nelson had stated he threatened suicide in order to manipulate the victim into not reporting the relationship.
Kube then asked Nelson if he knew the relationship was wrong, which Nelson said he did.
“I deluded myself into thinking that it was a natural relationship and that it was OK to have a relationship between a 22-year-old and a 15-year-old. ... You don’t keep secrets if you think they’re OK,” Nelson said.
Kube asked Nelson if he believed he had harmed the victim, to which Nelson again answered in the affirmative.
“I know that I harmed this girl. I know that now. ... I convinced myself that I didn’t know, that it wasn’t that bad so I wouldn’t lose myself in a spiral (of depression),” Nelson said.
Madison County Deputy Attorney Matthew Kiernan called the victim herself to the witness stand, where she read a prepared statement to the court.
The victim said she met Nelson at the age of 14 when she was at a dance recital. She said Nelson was there with his wife to watch their 3-year-old daughter dance.
The relationship began as a friendship between the victim and Nelson, she said.
“Will and I were best friends. ... We began to confide in each other,” even when the topics were “inappropriate,” she said.
She told the court that this “wasn’t a case where he got to know me. ... He put me through hell and told me that was love.”
The victim said Nelson had taken photos of her in vulnerable situations without her knowledge and then blackmailed her with them.
Despite it all, the victim said she didn’t want to see “Will’s life thrown away. ... He’s just a sick man.”
The victim’s mother was called to the stand next, and she also read from a prepared statement.
“Every single day I ask myself how did I not see this happening? ... I trusted you, Will. I allowed my kids to spend time with you and your family. ... You came from a family that dedicated their lives to spreading the word of the Lord,” the victim’s mother said.
Nelson is the son of a minister.
She said Nelson had laid in front of the victim’s tires to keep her from leaving at one point and that he had violently broken down a door on her 17th birthday. The mother also said that Nelson had made advances toward the victim’s friends and gotten their phone numbers in order to make the victim jealous.
“You had a beautiful wife and daughter at home. Why did you have to prey on my daughter?” the mother asked Nelson directly.
“Even with all of the anger I have towards you, I want you to get treatment. ... I want you to get substantial time in a controlled environment. ... I will continue to pray for you and your family,” the victim’s mother said.
Nelson’s attorney, Madison County Public Defender Matthew Headley, did not have any questions for either of the witnesses.
Kiernan reiterated to the court that the victim was only 15 when Nelson began a sexual relationship with her.
“She was such an age that she was not mentally capable or legally able to have a sexual relationship (with an adult). ... When (the victim) tried to break things off, (Nelson) called her hundreds of times through encrypted apps when she tried to block his number. He took the keys and wouldn’t let her leave. ... He took a mostly nude photo of her without her permission or knowledge and then when she tried to break things off, he sent it to her electronically and threatened to send it to her family,” Kiernan said.
He asked the court for a significant sentence of incarceration.
Headley said his client has taken full responsibility for his actions and showed he understood the seriousness of his crimes when he pleaded guilty at his arraignment.
“(Nelson’s) intention was not to drag his family and the victim’s family — especially the victim — through a trial, through depositions, through motions, through hearings. ... Mr. Nelson knows that he needs help, he knows that what he did was wrong and he wants the court to give him that opportunity to get that help,” Headley said.
He told the court that Nelson could get help out in the community better than he could in prison, due to waiting lists for services.
“(Nelson) is asking the court to give strong consideration to a term of probation to allow him to seek treatment, to right the wrong that he has put everybody in in this situation,” Headley said.
If probation wasn’t appropriate, Headley asked that Nelson receive a minimal jail or prison sentence.
When give the chance to address the court, Nelson apologized.
“I just want to say I’m sorry to all of my family that’s here. I know I wasn’t raised to be like this, and I let you guys down. ... To the (victim’s) family, I’m sorry that you trusted me with your daughter, and I broke that trust. ... I’m sorry (to the victim). Nobody should have to go through what I did, and I’m sorry. I hope everything can get better from what happened,” Nelson said.
Judge Kube told Nelson that this type of crime has had a major effect on the victim, on her family, on Nelson’s family and on the community at large.
“Anybody who hears about this is going to be affected. ... You violated trust. You do come from a Christian family, a pastor’s family. ... We’re always kind of shocked when something happens to a family like that, but it’s not the first time, and it definitely won’t be the last,” Kube said.
He told the victim and her mother that he appreciated them coming forward to testify, as that’s difficult to do.
Kube then sentenced Nelson to 20-25 years in the Nebraska Department of Corrections with credit for 98 days served. Nelson must serve at least 10 years in prison, less 98 days, before he is first eligible for parole, and he must serve 12½ years, less 98 days, before his mandatory release.