Admits Assault Based on Victim’s Sexual Orientation
A Nampa, Idaho man pleaded guilty today in U.S. District Court to violently assaulting Steven Nelson because he was gay, resulting in Mr. Nelson’s death, announced Acting Assistant Attorney General Tom Wheeler, head of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, and U.S. Attorney Wendy J. Olson for the District of Idaho.
Kelly Schneider, 23, was indicted by a federal grand jury on Jan. 10, with one count of violating the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr., Hate Crimes Prevention Act.
“Kelly Schneider assaulted and killed a man because of the man’s sexual orientation,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Wheeler. “This is a federal crime, and the Department of Justice will continue to work with our federal and state law enforcement partners to enforce our federal hate crimes laws.”
“Steven Nelson was assaulted and later died because he was gay,” said U.S. Attorney Olson. “This is precisely the kind of bias motivated violence that the Shepard-Byrd Act was passed to address. The federal prosecution in this case makes clear that this office, the Civil Rights Division and its law enforcement partners will pursue justice when a person is violently attacked based on who he loves and how he loves.”
According to the plea agreement, on the evening of April 27, 2016, Schneider posted a solicitation for sex on backpage.com, an Internet website, including in the solicitation a shirtless photo of himself. Mr. Nelson responded to that posting, and Schneider met with him the next evening. Schneider took Mr. Nelson’s money without engaging in any sexual act with Mr. Nelson. Before the encounter, Schneider told his friends that he was not gay and would not let anyone who was gay touch him.
In the early morning hours of April 29, Schneider resumed communication with Mr. Nelson. Schneider then conspired with other individuals to again rob Mr. Nelson. According to the plan, Schneider was to meet up with Mr. Nelson in a parking lot and ask Mr. Nelson to drive to an isolated wildlife area near Lake Lowell for a sexual encounter. Once there, Schneider would rob Mr. Nelson, and two of Schneider’s cohorts would be waiting as “back up” to assist him if Mr. Nelson resisted the robbery.
When Schneider and Mr. Nelson reached the isolated wildlife area, Schneider immediately began physically assaulting Mr. Nelson, kicking him 20 to 30 times with steel-toed boots and repeatedly using a homophobic slur. Mr. Nelson, who never resisted throughout the attack, died of his injuries later that day. No one else participated in the assault.
Sentencing is set for April 26, in front of Chief U.S. District Court Judge B. Lynn Winmill. The charge of willful assault based on sexual orientation, resulting in death, is punishable by up to life in prison, supervised release of not more than five years, and a $250,000 fine.
Schneider also pleaded guilty on Jan. 23, in state court to first-degree murder based on Mr. Nelson’s death.
The Canyon County Sheriff’s Office, with assistance from the Treasure Valley Metro Violent Crime Task Force, conducted the investigation. The case is being investigated federally by the FBI. The federal case is being prosecuted by U.S. Attorney Olson of the District of Idaho and Trial Attorney Aejean Cha of the Civil Rights Division.