PALMER - On a cold January night in 2011, outside a cabin in the Trapper Creek woods, someone pointed a 12-gauge shotgun at Robert Carey, pulled the trigger and killed him. Then as his wife dashed inside to get away, someone shot her with a .45-caliber handgun. The bullet grazed her shoulder.
Palmer District Attorney Roman Kalytiak told jurors in a courtroom Wednesday there's no doubt who did it: the Careys' neighbor, Jeremy Nelson, who is on trial for first-degree murder, attempted murder and assault.
"These are victims that are minding their own business in their cabin trying to make it through the winter," the prosecutor told jurors in his closing argument.
Kalytiak said the case arose from solid evidence including the victim's blood on the defendant's snowshoe. But the defense argued that it was built on lies and a flawed investigation.
"This case is filled with holes from top to bottom," defense lawyer Jeff Bradley said. "There is doubt in abundance."
The murder trial began May 7 and involved numerous witnesses and piles of evidence and exhibits, including Nelson's snowshoes, both guns, a loaded ammo belt, and a model of the Carey cabin created by the defense.
Carey's wife, Verna, testified that she was 100 percent sure Nelson, 38, was the killer, Kalytiak reminded jurors. The couple had gone outside that January night to check the generator after their cabin lost power. Nelson was on their property, with guns in hand, Verna testified. He seemed to be looking for someone, then shot Carey dead, troopers determined. The Careys hadn't met Nelson, a newcomer to their neighborhood, but had seen him around, Kalytiak said.
The .45-caliber bullet that grazed Verna was later found lodged in the cabin wall. A state crime lab weapons expert testified that the bullet came from Nelson's handgun, which was found in his cabin. He had another round in the pocket of his camouflage coat.
"Think about how those things are intertwined," Kalytiak said.
Troopers found snowshoe tracks heading from Nelson's cabin to the Carey cabin and then back to the Nelson cabin, the district attorney said. Nelson had a pair of orange and black snowshoes. Carey's blood was found on the left one, Kalytiak said.
"So the defendant is being boxed in pretty big here, by the physical evidence," he said. "Because it's all his, and it all came from his house."
Prosecutors don't have to prove a motive for a killing, but Kalytiak noted that Nelson was possessive of his girlfriend, Kerry Cook. One witness testified that he suspected Verna's son of ogling her and another said he thought Carey may have been eyeing her. The day before the killing, Nelson told a bank teller that if he saw Verna's son, he'd shoot him.
After the shooting, Nelson went to a friend's place nearby and holed up for hours in the back of a truck while troopers were searching for him. That friend, Rudy Gestl, eventually told troopers that Nelson admitted to him he had unplugged the generator and shot the Careys, Kalytiak said.
Defense lawyer Bradley argued that none of that means Nelson was the killer.
When Verna Carey was on the stand, she was unable to identify Nelson in a photo, Bradley noted. They had never met or spoken before that night.
"She just knew the name. She knew enough to say it was Jeremy Nelson," Bradley said. She told dispatchers that he would shoot anybody and that when troopers got to him, they shouldn't hesitate.
"Those are strange things to say about somebody you do not know," Bradley said.
Anyone could have swiped Nelson's guns and snowshoes to set him up, Bradley said. Investigators found none of Carey's blood on his boots or his winter coat or pants.
There were other odd things, the defense lawyer said. Verna Carey initially said the shooter was outside the cabin when she was hit. But Bradley, using the defense model of the cabin to illustrate his point, said the gun could not have been fired from outside the cabin because of where the bullet lodged in the wall. That would be an impossible trajectory, he said.
"The story doesn't hold up. What you've been presented with is a lie," Bradley said.
Some witnesses testified that Nelson was on drugs the night of the killing. But there's no blood test proving that, Bradley said. Nelson had been drinking, and was passed out -- not holed up -- in the truck, Bradley said. That wasn't the best alibi, so after repeatedly denying he was at the Carey cabin, he came up with a new story about what happened that night.
Carey's daughter -- trying to figured out what happened -- visited him in prison, and he told her that he and another neighbor, Ross Nold, went to the Carey place to sell him guns. Nold was the one who shot Carey, he claimed. He wrote a letter to his girlfriend saying the same thing.
Bradley acknowledged to jurors that Nelson made that story up. In reality, Nold didn't think much of Nelson, and they never would have gone to the Carey cabin together late at night to sell guns, Kalytiak said.
Jurors will begin deliberating Thursday morning.
Reach Lisa Demer at email@example.com or 257-4390.