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Wife who killed, cooked husband denied parole

In a 1992 photo, Omaima Aref Nelson enters a Santa Ana, Calif. courtroom. Nelson, who killed her newlywed husband and chopped and cooked his body parts over Thanksgiving weekend in 1991 is seeking release from a California prison. Nelson is set to appear before parole commissioners Wednesday at the Central California Women's Facility in Chowchilla where she has been serving a life sentence. In a 1992 photo, Omaima Aref Nelson enters a Santa Ana, Calif. courtroom. Nelson, who killed her newlywed husband and chopped and cooked his body parts over Thanksgiving weekend in 1991 is seeking release from a California prison. Nelson is set to appear before parole commissioners Wednesday at the Central California Women's Facility in Chowchilla where she has been serving a life sentence. (AP Photo/Orange County Register, Bruce Chambers)
By Gosia Wozniacka
Associated Press / October 5, 2011

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CHOWCHILLA, Calif.—A California woman who killed her newlywed husband and chopped and cooked his body parts over Thanksgiving weekend in 1991 was denied her second bid for parole Wednesday.

Parole commissioners rejected Omaima Nelson's request for freedom following a five-and-half-hour hearing at the Central California Women's Facility in Chowchilla, where she has been serving a life sentence.

Then-23-year-old Nelson was convicted of murdering her 56-year-old husband William Nelson in a grotesque killing that authorities likened to the fictional slayings of Hannibal Lecter, the cannibalistic character in "Silence of the Lambs."

Nelson, now 43, represented herself at the hearing and argued that she should be paroled because she has become a changed person and she wanted "to live the good life God meant." She claimed she was sorry, though she continued to say she killed in self-defense.

But the two-person panel of the state Board of Parole found that Nelson, an Egyptian-born former model and nanny, continued to be a risk to society. Commissioners said she had not accepted full responsibility for the Orange County slaying, nor completed educational or vocational programs while incarcerated that would help her lead a productive life outside prison.

Nelson was "blaming anybody but herself," deputy commissioner Robert Barese said at the hearing.

Commissioners cited Nelson's criminal history, including shoplifting, auto theft and assault with a firearm, and her failure to abide by prison rules, including violations for fighting, battering on a staff member, hiding contraband, stealing, failure to comply with instructions and arguing.

They also found that Nelson had shown a pattern of exchanging sex with older men for money and goods, which in the past had led to violence.

William's daughter Margaret Nelson -- who was 15 at the time of the murder -- gave a long, tearful speech in which she said her father's murder meant he couldn't attend her wedding or meet her 8-week-old daughter.

"I don't have the language to explain the pain of my father not being there," the victim's daughter said.

Nelson will not be eligible to seek parole again for 15 years -- the maximum period she can be held without another hearing, the commissioners said. Nelson sat silently as her plea for parole was rejected.

Randy Pawloski, a senior deputy district attorney in Orange County who prosecuted the case and argued against her release, said he was glad Nelson was denied freedom, because "we've always thought this is an egregious case... and she's a danger to society."

Defense attorney Thomas Mooney, who represented Nelson during the trial but was not present at the hearing, said he had hoped Nelson would get parole, but wasn't surprised she was denied, because most murderers in California are denied parole. He said Nelson should be let free, because she murdered her husband in response to his abuse and then suffered a psychotic event.

"The actual killing, I don't want to call it run-of-the-mill, but it's not unusual for somebody to kill out of passion," Mooney said, adding that what Nelson has already served is enough for her crime.

During the trial, Nelson told jurors that William, her husband of three weeks, had sexually assaulted and beat her for weeks, including that Thanksgiving weekend, and that she committed the acts in self-defense. She claimed William tied her hands, bit, kicked, grabbed and choked her and threatened to kill her. She also said she was repeatedly molested and beaten by men as a child in Egypt and subjected to unanesthetized circumcision.

But prosecutors found evidence suggesting that Nelson killed her husband to obtain his money and other property. Authorities said she tied up her husband of less than a month, killed him and decapitated, dismembered and disemboweled the body over the course of the Thanksgiving weekend, churning his parts through a garbage disposal that neighbors said ran nonstop in the hours after the murder.

Authorities found some of Nelson's body parts stuffed in garbage bags and mixed with leftover turkey, including a bag containing his entrails on the front floor of William's Corvette. They found "an abattoir" -- a slaughterhouse -- in the couple's Costa Mesa home, with blood pools on the floor, blood-stained sheets and walls, and no evidence of rape.

The man's hands had been fried in oil and his head boiled and stuffed in freezer, Pawloski said. His lower body and torso were skinned. Nelson sought help from two different friends, Pawloski said, to try to remove her husband's teeth and dispose of his remains to cover her tracks -- one of them alerted police.

Authorities said some body parts had disappeared. The total weight of body parts found was approximately 100 pounds, while William had weighed 230 alive.

Nelson denied intending to kill her husband or planning to take his money, but she admitted to stabbing William in the chest and neck with a pair of scissors, striking him with an iron and throwing a lamp at him as he sexually assaulted her. She said that after the slaying she "freaked out," fell into a trance-like state, and spent 12 hours hacking up the body to simplify disposal. She claimed to have little memory of his dismemberment, but recalled cutting off his penis and his ring finger, cleaning the apartment and packaging the body parts.

A psychiatrist at Nelson's trial testified that Nelson put on red shoes, a red hat and red lipstick before spending hours chopping up her husband's body. The psychiatrist testified that she confessed to cooking her husband's ribs barbecue-style and tasting them but later denied engaging in cannibalism. The psychiatrist also said he believed she was psychotic when she killed Nelson.

Jurors found Nelson not guilty of first-degree murder, citing insufficient evidence of premeditation, but convicted her of second-degree murder. They also found Nelson guilty of assaulting a former boyfriend with a gun.

She is serving a prison sentence of 25 years to life.

Nelson appealed but lost in 1995. In 2006, she expressed remorse for killing her husband and sought parole claiming she had found salvation as a born-again Christian. She said she had also married an older man from outside prison, who has since died. But parole was denied by commissioners who found her unpredictable and a serious threat to public safety.

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