by Travis Mateer
The brutal murder of Lee Nelson on November 20h, 2020, is one of those types of murders that challenges how a town like Missoula sees itself.
In some ways the upcoming trial next month is more a defense of Missoula’s handling of homelessness than it is the prosecution of an accused killer. I say this for two reasons. The first is the talking point about how no homeless person has died of winter weather these past two years. This talking point featured heavily in the crisis mill levy campaign that failed at that ballot machines last month, and conveniently omits other forms of death, like violent murder.
The second reason I’m getting the feeling the trial will showcase Missoula’s compassionate spirit is the handling I got from the investigating detective, Ethan Smith, when I spoke to him last week about information I had that might be helpful to the prosecution.
As the former Crime Prevention Officer for the Missoula Police Department, Ethan Smith is good at interfacing with the public, so I appreciated the tidbit he shared about one of Lee Nelson’s last interactions with a member of the public before his life was allegedly ended by this nice fellow who had recently relocated for Idaho.
Since Lee was wheelchair-bound, the man he knew from the Poverello Center, Charles Covey, was having a difficult time pushing him down the sidewalk. This was caught on camera footage, probably from St. Pat’s hospital across the street. According to Detective Smith, Lee’s wheelchair got stuck in the snow and a “good Samaritan” stopped his/her vehicle to help out.
Unfortunately getting the chair back on track led to Lee’s brutal beating death in broad daylight, and right in the location that infamous “performing arts center”, or something like it, is one day going to be built (or so we are told).
The rumor about WHY Covey allegedly murdered Nelson is something I heard in June of 2021, from a recently-discharged inmate of the detention facility who claimed to be on the same cell-block as Covey. I’ll keep the details of that rumor under wraps for the time being, in case my involvement in the trial becomes necessary.
I knew Lee quite well, and even made a few comments at his memorial, which the Missoulian documented.
As I reread the article from 2020, I caught a story I had never heard Lee tell, and that’s his literal 15 seconds of fame on Live PD. From the link:
At the bar, Love would bring Nelson old coats or a new pair of boots that had been too small for her husband.
Love heaved a good laugh at the memory from nearly a year ago, when a few people were sitting around the TV at the bar watching “Live PD,” a reality-TV program that followed the Missoula County Sheriff’s Office for several months in 2019. The deputy had been speaking with someone on camera when Nelson went rolling by in the background, capturing the cameraman’s attention for a few moments.
“Everybody was sitting around the TV and we yelled out, ‘Oh my God, that’s Lee!” she said.
Nelson was proud of his 15 seconds of fame and talked about it when Love would see him around East Missoula and give him rides into town.
When I attend this trial next month, there are some things I’d like to know more about, but we’ll have to see what the prosecutors bring, and how the defense defends their client.
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