Lee Nelson Deserves Better Than This

by Travis Mateer

I’m not sure what I expected before this murder trial began on Monday, but it certainly wasn’t a growing fear at the end of the week that doubt would exist in my mind about who is responsible for doing this to Lee Nelson:

I debated with myself about whether or not to publish this picture, but the way the week ended convinced me the entire criminal justice system in Missoula needs a fucking reality check that this isn’t just some game we’re playing, with jailhouse snitches and manipulative cops protecting their own asses in this goddamn farce.

The world inside the jail, which is under the direct supervision of the Missoula County Sheriff’s Office, has become a significant part of the state’s effort to convict Charles Michael Covey of deliberate homicide, starting with a decision SOMEONE at the jail made to put Covey in leg restraints before trial.

Why does this matter? It matters because perception is everything in a case like this, where a murder weapon was never recovered, a confession was never formally obtained, and the culture this murder arises from is one heavily influenced by addiction, desperation, and violence. Even worse, Covey’s mobility and physical health are factors that have come up in witness testimony, so the perception that Covey had a limp due to injury could very well be prejudicial for the jury.

The defense made a motion at the beginning of the trial about the leg restraints, and in order to address this, Judge Vannatta had to examine his correspondence with the jail regarding the security plan to determine that two plain clothes officers were requested, but NOTHING about restraints of any kind.

Exploiting jailhouse bravado appears to be a BIG component of the state’s case against Charles Covey. So, who is helping out LEAD Detective, Guy Baker, to obtain such credible statements of guilt? Well, inmates like Bryan Hindman, someone I know well from my time working at the Poverello Center.

Bryan Hindman, from my direct experience, is a VERY adept manipulator, so good he was a manager for a short time at a local motel, and offered his perspective on the problem of the homeless just a few years ago.

From the link (emphasis mine):

Down the road, Mountain Valley Inn Manager Bryan Hindman leads Angela to where people have been taking shelter in the hotel’s stairwell, one of *several* areas seeing problems on the premise.

“They’d be sleeping under the stairs and you can take the stairs all the way up to the third floor landing. That’s where I’d find them sleeping,” Hindman adds.

And if they weren’t there, he knew they had been.

He says, “The majority of time they’ve probably urinated or defecated back there. So we have to get in there. We have to clean it up immediately.”

Clean up and repeat.

“I think part of our problem as a community is we ignored it too long,” Hindman expresses to Angela. “We ignored the homeless situation too long.”

Another quality witness emerged just a few months ago, despite this homicide being two years old. It’s VERY convenient that the man pictured below, who recently faced drug charges with intent to distribute, popped up to provide testimony regarding the elusive weapon, thought to be a bat.

Yep, according to Joseph Brian, Covey was his cellmate recently and told him that he burned the bat at his camp after the murder. So POOF, I guess that wraps up THAT loose end.

Another reason I published the gruesome photo of Lee Nelson’s fatal injuries is because the weapon, or lack thereof, is a BIG problem for the prosecution. Lee’s injuries include BOTH sharp force wounds and blunt force wounds, something the medical examiner, Sunil Prashar, testified was unusual.

Could there be more than one weapon? And could there be more than one perpetrator? The fact I’m asking these questions at the end of a long week with over THIRTY witnesses providing their testimony is NOT a good sign for the prosecution.

I recorded a two hour conversation about this case last night with someone who is much smarter on these legal matters, and definitely more objective, so I hope to put that conversation out as the Zoom Chron podcast REBOOT on Sunday.

Thanks for reading!

About Travis Mateer

I'm an artist and citizen journalist living and writing in Montana. You can contact me here: willskink at yahoo dot com
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1 Response to Lee Nelson Deserves Better Than This

  1. SUPERB reporting. I got a client’s death sentence overturned due to a remote controlled 50,000 volt shock vest controlled by courtroom deputies, the client was forced to wear under his shirt over our objections. Yes, jailhouse snitches and everything else you relate, is a cesspool that overflows in cases like this one. Eagerly looking forward to your next dispatch.

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