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Nelson denies involvement in 12-year-old's disappearance, death

Brian Roger, Houston Chronicle
Updated 8:04 pm, Tuesday, August 20, 2013

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  • Mona Nelson, accused of killing 12-year-old Jonathan Foster, in the courtroom for pretrial motions on Monday before beginning her capital murder trial this week on Monday, Aug. 12, 2013, in Houston. ( Mayra Beltran / Houston Chronicle ) Photo: Mayra Beltran, Staff / © 2013 Houston Chronicle
    Mona Nelson, accused of killing 12-year-old Jonathan Foster, in the courtroom for pretrial motions on Monday before beginning her capital murder trial this week on Monday, Aug. 12, 2013, in Houston. ( Mayra Beltran / Houston Chronicle ) Photo: Mayra Beltran, Staff

 

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The woman accused of abducting and murdering 12-year-old Jonathan Foster told investigators in a videotaped interrogation that she did not know she was dumping the boy's charred body into a culvert, but said she smelled something sweet while unloading a trash can from the back of her pickup.

On the video shown during Mona Nelson's capital murder trial Tuesday, Nelson first denied having anything to do with the boy's death, then blamed his stepfather for the crime.

"I thought, 'I can't believe David would put me in the middle of this,'" Nelson told detectives after the boy's body had been found, four days after he disappeared about 2 p.m. on Christmas Eve. "I didn't harm Jonathan."

Nelson said she was "highly intoxicated" after smoking marijuana, drinking a brown liquor, vodka and beer while driving between various friends' homes in north Houston the day before Christmas. She said she was flagged down by Foster's stepfather David Davis, and a friend of his she did not know. Nelson said the men asked her to help them haul something away. After driving around in an industrial area near the Hardy Toll road, she said, Davis talked on the phone while she helped the other man dump a city trash can in a culvert.

Police initially suspected Davis, but he was cleared after detectives obtained video of him sitting in a bar that day and checked his cell phone records.

The disposal of the boy's body was captured on grainy surveillance video and shows only one person, dressed as Nelson was dressed that day, taking something out of a Ford F-150 truck.

In her version, Nelson said she did not know Foster's body was in the trash can or that it had been charred. She told police she smelled something "sweet" while helping unload.

Houston Police Sgt. Brian Harris, who was interrogating her, testified that newly burned human remains have a unique smell.

"It's almost like a sweet, sweet mesquite smell," Harris said. The detective said he had smelled it at least eight times in more than 20 years of police work. "It's weird to say, but it almost makes your tongue tingle."

Prosecutors are expected to argue that Nelson kidnapped and killed the boy, and she was trying to implicate Davis.

Tuesday's testimony shed no new light on a possible motive for the slaying. Prosecutors believe Nelson abducted and killed the boy, who was the son of one of Nelson's acquaintances, but do not know why.

Investigators believe she used a cutting torch or other equipment from her work as a welder to burn the body. In addition to working as a welder, Nelson was also a part-time handyman at the apartment complex where the boy and his mother were living.

The second week of trial continues Wednesday in state District Judge Jeannine Barr's court.

Barr, not a jury, will determine Nelson's guilt or innocence, which was a request from the defendant. If convicted of capital murder, Nelson will be sentenced automatically to life without parole, per state law.