Man found guilty, awaits sentencing in Dobson murder

Steven Lawayne Nelson takes the witness stand to testify in his own defense in his trial on Friday in Fort Worth before being found guilty of the murder of the Rev. Nelson could face either life in prison without parole or the death penalty.
Associated Press

By Maegan Rocio

Staff Writer

Steven Lawayne Nelson, age 25, was convicted Monday in the 2011 murder of the Rev. Clinton Dobson, a 2008 Truett Seminary graduate and pastor of Nort Pointe Baptist Church in Arlington.

Nelson was found guilty of capital murder on Monday and could face either life in prison without parole or the death penalty.

On March 3, 2011, Nelson walked less than a mile from his house to the church with the intention of stealing Northpointe Baptist Church secretary Judy Elliot’s car Prosecutor Page Simpson said. It was unknown as to how Nelson entered the church.

After threatening and hitting Dobson, who was inside, with what looked like a gun, Nelson forced Dobson and Elliot to tie each other up and placed a plastic bag over Dobson’s head. Dobson died of suffocation. The church secretary was severely beaten during the robbery.

Prosecutors said following the robbery, Nelson drove away in Elliot’s car, pawned Dobson’s laptop, picked up his friend, Anthony Gregory Springs, and purchased items using Elliot’s credit cards.

The secretary’s husband went to the church that afternoon following the robbery and entered using a keypad code. He found his wife tied up on the ground, beaten badly.

Officer Jesse Parrish arrived on the scene and found Dobson’s body inside a raided office.

Springs was arrested and charged with capital murder but was not indicted by a grand jury. Police checked his cell phone records and determined he was not at the church at the time of the murder.

Nelson, who testified in his own defense during the trial last week, pleaded not guilty.

Nelson alleged two of his friends committed the crime instead as he remained outside of the church. Defense attorneys said Elliot told a doctor two men assaulted her.

The trial has entered the punishment phase, and testimony was shared stating Nelson caused various problems while jailed which culminated in charges of assault against his jailer.

According to some testimony shared on Monday, Nelson has been committing offenses since he was a teenager.

After hearing the verdict, Jeff Waldo, associate pastor at North Pointe Baptist Church and Dobson’s mentor, said he does not want Dobson’s family to suffer anymore.

“They don’t have to keep revisiting the event that occurred,” Waldo said. “There are two possible sentencings. If there is a death penalty, there is a possibility for an appeal. If he does appeal, then the family could go through this again. But with life without parole, there isn’t a possibility of an appeal. The family won’t have to go through the events again because there wouldn’t be any more trials. I don’t know with certainty how the family feels having to go through the trial and hear the details of the trial, but having to keep revisiting that is a very difficult situation.”

Waldo also said he hopes the convicted man can find “redemption.”

“As a believer, I hold out hope that all people can find redemption,” he said. “If someone is put to death by the state, as a believer, I hope they have time to find redemption. I hope that anybody can re-evaluate their life and experience the Gospel.”

Waldo said since the convicted man committed a “public” crime, the public must decide what do to in response.

“This is now going into the public forum and those are the two options,” he said. “And since he has committed an act that has gone into the public forum, the public gets to decide the decision, and I have to accept that.”

The friends and family of Dobson are still mourning his death.

Robert Creech, professor of Christian ministries, and director of pastoral ministries at Baylor’s Truett Seminary, is the pastor at University Baptist Church in Houston, Dobson’s original church home.

“Clinton grew up in my church, and I baptized him and knew him as a kid growing up,” Creech said. “He was the same age as my second son, and they were pretty much best friends growing up. I mostly knew him as a church member and a friend.”

Creech said Dobson was an outgoing person, even as a child.

“He reminded me, when he was a little kid, of Opie from the Andy Griffith TV show,” he said. “He was just a red-headed kid, smiling all the time, very curious, very athletic, very active.”

Creech said Dobson returned to University Baptist Church after being called to minister as a preacher.

“He came back and worked at our church as a summer intern for a couple of summers,” he said. “He went off to seminary at New Orleans Seminary and after Katrina hit, their school was closed and so we talked and he talked to other pastors and he end up transferring to Truett and finishing here.”

Waldo said Dobson was a wonderful person and pastor.

“He was probably the one of kindest, most humble young men you’d ever met,” he said. “He had incredible potential.”

Waldo said Dobson was intelligent and got along with anyone he came across.

“He got along with everyone, people who weren’t educated, highly educated, poor people,” he said. “He had a big heart, and his brain was just as a big.”

Creech said Dobson was dedicated to his work as a pastor.

“The summer before I came here I was gone for a week, and I asked him to come and preach at my church in Houston in my absence,” he said. “He came from his home church and preached and did a great job. He was very dedicated to the people and work he was doing.”

Creech said Dobson cared for the poor as well.

“He had a real heart for the poor,” he said. “When he was interning at our church, he worked in an apartment complex there in Pasadena, and I think some of his work in Arlington was related to trying to help the impoverished as well.”

Waldo said he has many good memories of the time he spent with Dobson before his death, including watching Dobson’s love story unfold.

“I’ve got lots of good memories,” he said. “Getting to watch him grow up and watching him fall in love was incredible. He met Laura, and I married them. It was fun to watch him fall in love.”

Waldo said he still thinks about his friend.

“It’s a shame his life was too short,” he said. “He was a great guy. and he had such a bright future ahead. I do miss him very much.”

Creech said Dobson was living proof of the loving family who raised him.

“His mom and dad and sister are just really neat people,” he said. “He came from a really good family, and I know they’re just hurting a lot and will be for a long time.”

Waldo said Dobson’s life should be an example to live by.

“Live your life to the fullest in this moment,” he said. “He lived everyday to the fullest. You don’t know what the day’s going to hold for you.”

Dobson’s family has partnered with Truett Seminary to create the Clint Dobson Memorial Fund to honor his life and studies as a seminary student.

Those that wish to contribute to the fund can do so online at and type in “Clint Dobson memorial fund.”

The Associated Press contributed to this story.