Morgan County Circuit Judge Charles Elliott on Tuesday ordered a mental evaluation for the man accused of murder in the death of a female pedestrian in the Walmart Neighborhood Market parking lot in Decatur last month.
Patrick Caver of Hartselle, the court-appointed attorney for Preston Lamar Nelson, 33, of Madison, presented the request for the evaluation before a preliminary hearing was set to begin in District Judge Shelly Waters' courtroom Tuesday morning.
Caver also requested access to evidence obtained by the prosecution, and Waters granted the defense the right to spend up to $5,000 on a private investigator for the case.
Waters also noted both the prosecution and defense are waiting on an autopsy report. She scheduled a new preliminary hearing date for Dec. 13 at 9 a.m.
Elliott said the Alabama Department of Mental Health would conduct the mental examination of Nelson. The judge said he was unsure when that might be. He said if the test is not completed and results received by Dec. 13, Waters could further postpone the preliminary hearing.
The 6-foot-4, 220-pound Nelson appeared in court Tuesday morning wearing a black-and-white jump suit issued by the Morgan County Jail and black-and-white rubber sandals. He had shackles on his wrists, waist and ankles. He remained silent in the courtroom standing beside Caver and Morgan County Assistant District Attorney Courtney Schellack when Waters made her rulings.
Nelson is charged with driving his vehicle in reverse at a rapid speed and ramming into Sherry Sain, 64, of Huntsville, while, according to a witness, she walked through the parking lot after exiting the store at 1203 Sixth Ave. S.E. Sain, a former Decatur resident, was pinned between Nelson's vehicle and a parked SUV, police said. Sain was pronounced dead at the scene at 9:21 p.m. on Aug. 25, according to Morgan County Coroner Jeff Chunn.
The order issued by Elliott on Tuesday afternoon said the evaluation by the Department of Mental Health would determine Nelson's mental state at the time of Sain's death and his competency to understand the court proceedings and assist in his defense. Waters earlier deferred action on the request for a mental evaluation to circuit court as a matter of jurisdiction.
Court records show that on Sept. 12, Caver wrote in a motion the defendant has a history of mental health issues since his early teenage years. “At the time of the alleged offense, he has very limited memory of the day and was experiencing auditory and visual hallucinations,” the motion read. “He lacks the ability to understand the trial procedures or consequences of the legal process. It’s in the defense attorney opinion that he is unable to assist in his criminal defense.”
The motion asked that prosecution of the case “be stayed pending the outcome of the mental evaluation.”
Caver’s motion also requested the right to a competency hearing for his client before a jury. Caver said Tuesday a judge usually rules on competency.
After the court appearance Tuesday, Nelson was transported back to Morgan County Jail where he is held with a cash bond set at $500,000.
Sheriff's Department spokesman Mike Swafford said Nelson is in "administrative housing" at the jail with limited contact with other inmates and staff.
A witness to the Aug. 25 incident in the parking lot, Amy Brown of Decatur, said in an interview last month that she saw Nelson’s vehicle, a dark gray Mercury Grand Marquis, back into Sain before driving off. She said his vehicle stalled twice while he attempted to leave the parking lot onto Eighth Street Southeast.
She said he then ran back to the victim and “raked (the victim’s) blood all over his face.”
“He was parked in the first handicapped spot in front of the store, and he started in reverse, he then gassed it and (Sain) was pinned between the vehicles,” Brown said. The distance from the handicapped parking spot to where the collision of the vehicles occurred was about 30 to 40 feet.