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Man accused of dousing woman with lighter fluid gets 6 months

21-year-old girlfriend says incident was not 'as bad as it sounded'

Posted: Friday, May 02, 2003

Timothy Nelson, who police said doused his girlfriend with lighter fluid and threatened to set her on fire, will spend the next six months in prison. Juneau Superior Court Judge Patricia Collins granted the girlfriend's request to drop a restraining order keeping them apart.

Nelson, 23, pleaded guilty to fourth-degree assault, reckless endangerment and resisting arrest, all misdemeanors, on Wednesday before his sentencing.

A third-degree assault charge, stemming from the alleged lighter fluid incident, was dropped by the state. The charge was dropped because the 21-year-old victim told officials in the months following the Feb. 17 incident she may have been sprayed with water, not lighter fluid, Assistant District Attorney Natasha Norris told the court.

Collins accepted the plea agreement between defense attorney Diane Foster and Norris. Nelson was sentenced to 13 months in prison with six months and 20 days suspended and three years of probation.

"This may sound like a lot of time for someone with no prior violent convictions," Norris said during the hearing. "But given the alleged conduct with the lighter fluid, which is extremely serious and certainly disturbing, given (the victim) was hit a couple of times by Nelson and given the couple's daughter was also present, this seems like a reasonable amount of time to serve as a deterrent to Mr. Nelson."

Collins said she was "hesitant" to accept the plea because the accusations against Nelson involve violence and because he had three prior felony convictions. Nelson, a former Juneau Empire circulation department employee, was convicted of vehicle theft in 1997, burglary in 1999 and promoting contraband while in prison in 2000, all felonies.

Collins also said she didn't believe prison time would deter Nelson, but hoped for his daughter's sake he would attempt to be rehabilitated in prison.

Nelson's girlfriend, who was not named because she is a crime victim, said the incident "wasn't as bad as it sounded."

According to initial police reports and court records, Nelson came home to the couple's Mendenhall Valley apartment Feb. 17 after drinking or using drugs. The couple argued and the fight turned physical. The court record said Nelson punched his girlfriend several times. As she was holding the couple's daughter, he knocked the child out of his girlfriend's arms. The record said he picked up lighter fluid, sprayed it on the woman's back, held out a lighter and threatened to light the fluid.

"I think it was water," she said. "He was trying to scare me. That's all."

She declined comment on whether Nelson hit her the night of the incident and said she didn't believe his crimes merited a six-month sentence.

"I can't help what he did, but that doesn't mean I want to be away from him and I'm not going to take his daughter away from him," she said.

• Melanie Plenda can be reached at mplenda@juneauempire.com.



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