Death was 'accident'

Manslaughter trial began Tuesday with opening statements from prosecution, defense


"I killed my husband, I killed my son."

Those words uttered by Deputy District Attorney David Waite hung in the air Tuesday as he began his opening statement in the manslaughter case against Luree Highpines Nelums, 44.

Court-appointed defense attorney Kristopher Hammond will not argue that Nelums didn't kill her husband. Instead, he contends the death was a tragic accident.

Nelums was charged with manslaughter after her husband, Gordon Ray Nelums, 48, was found dead June 11, 1999, in a room at the Colorado Inn hotel with a stab wound in the femoral artery of his left thigh.

The statement Waite opened with was given by Nelums while in the presence of Craig Police Department officer Caroline Miller, he said.

"Our evidence will show that truer words were never spoken," Waite said.

The two attorneys gave opening statements during the first day of the trial Tuesday. Selecting a 12-member jury took most of the day and the first witness was not called until early this morning.

In his opening statement, Hammond referred to Nelum's death as a tragic, sad, accident not a crime.

"The evidence is going to show that this was a terrible, tragic accident," he said.

Nelum's silent tears accompanied his statement. She never raised her head to look at the judge, attorneys or jury.

Attorneys are allowed to state what they believe evidence will prove when they present their opening arguments. The speeches are used to provide a thumbnail sketch of the case to members of the jury.

That Nelums was fed up with her husband and wasn't going to take it anymore and that she said she was sorry she killed her husband, she only wanted to hurt him, are two statements Waite said witnesses would testify to.

"When you've heard all the evidence from all the witnesses in this case, you'll realize the truth of the defendants words when she said, 'I killed my husband,'" Waite said.

Another witness will testify that he heard the couple arguing like he had for several nights the night before Gordon Nelums was found dead, Waite said.

According to Hammond, Luree and Gordon had been married for 17 years and were the type of couple who fought often. In fact, he said, the two had argued the morning Gordon was killed. Luree, excited about a day of activities she planned for the two, awoke about 5 a.m. and tried to coax her husband from bed. He, having a day off after working several long shifts in a row, wanted to sleep longer, Hammond said. She allegedly grabbed a long, serrated knife Gordon had purchased several weeks before and threatened to slash the tires on Gordon's truck if he did not get out of bed. According to Hammond, Gordon grabbed the knife and the two began to struggle. During the struggle, the knife was pushed downward and into Gordon's thigh.

An official with the Colorado Bureau of Investigation will testify the knife was thrust with enough force to penetrate several layers of blankets and pierce 3 inches of Gordon's thigh, Waite said.

The knife used was found underneath a trash bag in the bed of a truck parked outside the hotel. Tests showed blood on the knife matched Gordon's DNA and fibers on the knife matched bedding from the hotel room.

"She panicked. She was scared. She knew Gordon was seriously injured so she ran out, put the knife in the back of the truck and ran across the street to get help," Hammond said. "The evidence is going to show when the police found Luree Nelums, she had watched her husband bleed to death and there was nothing she could do about it."

Gordon worked for a geophysical company and traveled around the United States looking for oil. Nelums traveled with him, Hammond said.

"You're going to hear that Gordon Nelums was Luree's life," he said. "That Gordon Nelums was all she had."

The trial is scheduled to last five days. During that time, the jury will have to consider whether the crime was committed with reckless abandonment or was an accident. The difference will be in the prosecution's ability to show Nelums knew her actions could kill her husband.

The jury reconvened at 8:30 this morning. The prosecution will be the first to bring witnesses. Former Craig police officer Eric Cox, the first on the scene, will testify first.

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