Nelson, 17, could be held in juvenile detention until he is 21 for helping his friend, Brody Blu Kruckenberg, also 17, dispose of the body of Gregorio Salazar Campos. Campos, who was dating Kruckenberg’s mother, was shot three times in the head as he slept in a bed at the home where Kruckenberg and his mother lived.
Campos’ body was found near an old bridge abutment in the Colorado River north of Moab on April 7, after someone came forward and told police that Nelson had said he killed someone. The informant provided information that led to the body and implicated Nelson and Kruckenberg in the crime.
A probable cause statement filed with 7th District Court indicated Nelson was the shooter and that Kruckenberg had asked him for help killing Campos. The two teens, then age 16, were charged as adults with first-degree felony murder and obstruction of justice, a second-degree felony.
Investigators later determined that, based on Nelson’s phone records and other evidence concerning the timeline of the shooting, Nelson was not present at the time Campos was killed. Kruckenberg later told investigators that he shot Campos, Grand County Attorney Andrew Fitzgerald said in July.
On July 22, the charges against both teens were dismissed in adult court and their cases were moved to juvenile court.
During a hearing in 7th District Juvenile Court on July 22, Fitzgerald said Kruckenberg killed Campos because he had been manipulated by several adults into believing Campos was a danger to Kruckenberg’s mother and “something had to be done about him.”
Campos was involved in drug trafficking, which had created conflicts with several of the adults who were influencing Kruckenberg, Fitzgerald said. He said some of those adults owed Campos money and were also were angry because they believed Campos had sold drugs laced with chemicals that had made some people ill.
“We believe he was competition for them and they wanted him out of the way,” Fitzgerald said.
Fitzgerald said this week that he is waiting for a full report on the investigation to be completed by Grand County Sheriff’s investigators and expects to charge at least two adults for their roles in influencing Kruckenberg.
Kruckenberg admitted during the July 22 juvenile court hearing that he alone shot Campos. He pleaded guilty to manslaughter and obstruction of justice, both second-degree felonies and Manley sentenced him to confinement in a high-security juvenile detention facility until he is 21 years old.
Nelson also pleaded guilty July 22 in juvenile court to obstruction of justice, a second-degree felony.
Kruckenberg’s mother, Corina Yardley, 44, pleaded guilty July 9 to two misdemeanor counts of obstruction of justice. She was ordered to pay a fine and placed on probation for 36 months.
During the juvenile court hearing in July, Fitzgerald said Nelson helped Kruckenberg come up with a plan to dispose of Campos’ body, and that two adults – both unrelated to either teen – also provided assistance.
He said the two teens bought rope at a local grocery story and used it to tie a bumper to Campos’ body, which was then dumped into the Colorado River.
Fitzgerald said Nelson was not present when Campos’ body was placed in the river but did participate in searching for a place to dump the body. The two adults allegedly helped Kruckenberg get rid of the body and clean up the crime scene at the home on Riversands Road, Fitzgerald said.
During the July hearing, Judge Manley ordered Nelson to undergo the psychological and behavioral assessment prior to sentencing.
Although the assessment report from juvenile justice system psychologists and staff recommended that Nelson be placed in a proctor home – a non-secure home for delinquent youth – and the prosecuting and defense attorneys said Monday in court that they supported that recommendation, Manley opted for the harsher sentence, saying she found many aspects of the case “troubling.”
Nelson’s attorney, Don Torgerson, took issue with some aspects of the assessment report, particularly with regard to whether Nelson has shown remorse for his involvement in helping dispose of Campos’ body.
“Mr. Nelson certainly regrets his involvement in this crime and has stated his involvement,” Torgerson said. “... He does regret this for the victim and the victims’s family.”
Torgerson told the judge that sending Nelson to a proctor home could provide him with opportunities to correct “thinking errors,” including substance abuse and other behaviors that contributed to Nelson’s involvement in the cover-up. He said placement in a proctor home would offer Nelson “socialization options” that juvenile detention does not.
“Mr. Nelson is absolutely culpable for destroying evidence – that is, hiding the body,” Torgerson said. “[He] was not involved in the killing of Mr. Campos. Brody was. Rather than electing to take a life, Mr. Nelson was a participant in the cover up. The life had already been taken.”
Nelson told the judge that he takes responsibility for what he did and is sorry for his actions and for “muddying the waters” by “saying I did things I didn’t do.” He also said he was sorry for Campos’ family.
He also said he was sorry for the impact of his actions on his family.
“It wasn’t anything my mom or parents did or didn’t do,” he said. “It was my own choices that brought me here.”
Juvenile probation officer Christopher Blackmon told the judge that he believed juvenile detention was the appropriate sentence for Nelson, based on the charges and circumstances of the crime.
“I have had some struggles as to what to recommend here ...,” Blackmon said. “It was shocking that two youths and other adults of this crime could hold such callous attitudes.”
Blackmon stressed that Nelson needs to receive counseling during his incarceration to help him “make better choices and be a contributing member of this community.”
Fitzgerald said Nelson had “issues of self-esteem” and other problems that may have contributed to his involvement. Fitzgerald said placing Nelson in a proctor home as a first choice so Nelson could receive substantial counseling and treatment while learning from positive role models.
“It’s disappointing because I think he has a mother that really cares about him and is a positive influence,” Fitzgerald said. “But other people he was around really had a strong influence because of his need to fit in and his psychological issues.”
Fitzgerald said he is concerned that in juvenile detention “the influence ... from peers is generally very negative.”
During sentencing, Manley noted that Nelson could have reported the homicide to police but instead, he bragged about it to his friends. The judge also cited her concern that Nelson’s statements during the assessment seemed to lack sincere regret.
“[The] dissociative nonchalance about your actions is so off-kilter that I find it hard to put that into words,” Manley said. “ ... Your lack of remorse requires that you be in a 24-hour facility so that you will not have the ability to do harm to another.”
Manley said she felt sympathy for Nelson’s mother, adding that his actions should not be seen to reflect on Nelson’s family.
“You had choices,” Manley told Nelson, “and you chose.”