When D.C. police officer Kenneth L. Nelson ignored a court order and appeared at his terrified wife's home on Georgia Avenue NW with a butcher knife, she immediately remembered what happened to O.J. Simpson's wife, Nicole.
She wondered whether Nelson, who had beaten his young stepson with an electrical cord and killed the two family cats, intended to make good on a threat to kill her.
The noose he strung from the ceiling that morning did nothing to calm her nerves.
Nelson assaulted his wife that day in front of her frightened 8-year-old twins, who thought the noose was meant for them, witnesses said. A judge convicted Nelson of 19 charges, but at yesterday's sentencing in D.C. Superior Court, the suspended officer said he had not broken the law.
"If the verbal abuse toward her was the wrong thing to do, then I apologize to her," Nelson, 34, said in a clear voice. "But I don't think I should be here, being charged and judged and sentenced for any physical abuse."
Nelson told Judge Lee Satterfield that his wife abused him physically and emotionally. He said awkward things happen in marriages: "Sometimes one person goes a little too far with the verbal abuse." He insisted he was "not an animal."
Satterfield, convinced of Nelson's guilt, sentenced the 3rd District officer to 5 years and 10 months in jail, plus five years' probation, and ordered him to pay $950 to the Crime Victims Compensation Fund.
"The court doesn't view you, as you might, as a victim," Satterfield told Nelson. He noted that Nelson repeatedly violated orders to stay away from his wife and stepchildren. He also said Nelson had shown no remorse for what he described as an "extended period of violence."
Prosecutors John Cummings and Amy Salvin said Nelson, a D.C. police officer for 10 years, acted as though he were above the law. Arrested April 2 for beating his 8-year-old stepson, he telephoned his wife from jail and said: "I am going to kill you. They cannot keep me in jail forever."
On April 28, despite three stay-away orders, Nelson armed himself with a butcher knife and entered the Georgia Avenue apartment where his wife and the children were sleeping. He strung the noose from the ceiling and started choking his wife as the children watched.
His wife has since divorced him. His stepdaughter has a new cat.
Defense attorney Thomas Heslep asked for probation. He said Nelson, treated for depression and alcoholism, has spent time in a homeless shelter and once committed himself to a mental hospital "in a state of near-collapse."
"Monster. That's not what I am," Nelson told Satterfield. "I hope you'll consider, sir, that I am a good person."