More than a dozen family members of Timothy Jon Nelson filed into two socially distanced courtrooms at the St. Louis County Courthouse in Duluth on Wednesday morning.
They donned lime-green T-shirts reading "Justice for Timothy" on the front, and their relation to the West Duluth shooting victim on the back.
Nearly 20 relatives presented victim-impact statements — including Nelson's two children and three stepchildren — in a show of strength at the sentencing of the first man convicted of his murder.
"Show these kids that we can trust in the justice system. Show them justice for their daddy," Nelson's widow, Roni Nelson, begged the court. "I hope and pray that every day while he is locked away, the faces of these children will be in his memory and he experiences the pain these five children will experience for the rest of their lives."
Christopher Floyd Boder, 32, apologized to the family for his role as the instigator in Nelson's death, but his plea for leniency was denied.
Sixth Judicial District Judge Leslie Beiers handed down a 25 ½-year prison term after Boder's conviction for aiding and abetting intentional second-degree murder.
"This was a senseless act of violence, fueled by easy access to drugs and firearms," the judge said. "Your choices on the night of Mr. Nelson's murder led to tragic and irreversible results."
'Driving force' behind murder
According to evidence presented at trial, Boder was irate after Nelson attempted to rob him with a BB or flare gun in the early morning of Sept. 22, 2019. Nelson's friend, Jamie Sanford, testified that she had the victim drop her off at Boder's residence to obtain drugs.
Boder and Sanford were in a car when Nelson, seemingly unaware it was them, suddenly appeared and began a brief struggle with Boder, the witness testified. Boder fended him off and Nelson left.
Sanford testified that she attempted to broker a peaceful resolution to the dispute, but Boder was enraged, picking up his roommate, James Michael Peterson, and a firearm. She said Boder made a comment about notifying Nelson's parents of "where to find the body" before the men dropped her off at a Proctor gas station.
Nelson was later found with a gunshot wound to the abdomen in his truck on the 300 block of North 62nd Avenue West. Neighbors reported hearing a struggle, with someone yelling "don't shoot" prior to hearing a gunshot.
Defense attorney Jeremy Downs said the evidence pointed to Peterson as the shooter, and suggested that he only did so in self-defense after Nelson lunged at the men. He repeatedly attacked the credibility of Sanford's testimony.
Downs moved for a departure from sentencing guidelines, suggesting a term of less than 11 years was appropriate given the circumstances.
But St. Louis County prosecutor Nate Stumme described Boder as the "driving force" behind the killing.
"The jury rejected Mr. Boder's version in its verdict," Stumme said, seeking the maximum sentence of just over 30 years.
Nelson's family joined in that call, with several speakers describing the defendant as a "monster." The victim's young children spoke of the "bad guy" who took their father, and their mother described the pain of explaining his loss.
"The tears fell for hours, days, weeks, months," Roni Nelson said. "They still fall daily. How do I, at age 27, plan a funeral for my deceased husband?"
Long road to justice
Relatives described Tim Nelson as a fun-loving and caring husband, father, son, cousin and uncle. While he wasn't perfect, they said the 33-year-old was dedicated to his faith and provided for his blended family by building his own contracting business.
"He was my best friend," said Sam Nelson, the victim's brother. "He was my mentor. He was the person I could go to for advice anytime, in any situation."
Alesa Nelson said the pain of losing her son was "unbearable," and it was only exacerbated by having to hear the details of his final moments through the trial.
"It's sad to think that someone's anger at a moment could get the best of them," she said. "I feel this person has possibly terrorized his community."
Boder offered a statement of apology, but requested that it be read by defense attorney Natasha VanLieshout.
"I wish I could go back to that night and do more to prevent the tragedy, or at least help Tim," he wrote. "He did not deserve to die that night. He should be alive and planning for the festivities of the upcoming holidays. Not a single day goes by where I don't think about that night."
While Beiers said she hopes the sentence will provide a "measure of justice" for Nelson's family, there is still much left to be resolved in court.
Peterson, 39, faces an identical murder charge. He is slated to stand trial March 2.
The girlfriends of both defendants — Amber Rose Louise Forrest, 30, and Taylor Ann Fredrickson, 28 — also have pending charges of felony aiding an offender for steps they allegedly took to hinder the investigation.
This story was updated at 1:53 p.m. Nov. 18 with additional information from the sentencing. It was originally posted at 10:42 a.m. Nov. 18.