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Jessie Nelson

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Trial begins for man accused of shooting 2, killing 1

On Tuesday afternoon, after a Buchanan County jury was selected, the trial began against a man accused of shooting two men last August, killing one and paralyzing another.

Jessie Nelson is accused of shooting two men near 10th and Henry streets on Aug. 6, 2018. One man, Mack Jenkins, was killed, while another, Deon Hernandez, was seriously injured and is now quadriplegic.

Nelson is facing charges of first-degree murder, first-degree assault and armed-criminal action.

Tuesday afternoon, a jury heard opening statements from both the state and defense about what they could expect to learn from the trial.

Prosecutor Ron Holliday walked the jury through the day of Aug. 6, 2018, alleging that Nelson had made contact with the victims early that morning at a local gas station, and that Jenkins had been acting paranoid throughout the day, checking out the window of his home as if expecting to see someone.

Holliday said that when Jenkins and Hernandez were out later that evening, Nelson began following them on their way home.

A witness testified he had seen a black sedan following a white Pacifica near the corner of 11th and Isadore streets, and said he had made eye contact with a black male in the sedan who he described as having a short, curly afro.

Holliday said that shortly after passing the witness, the two men in the white vehicle parked outside at 10th and Henry for a moment, and that is when Hernandez allegedly saw a black man running toward him with a gun. After getting back in the car and trying to flee, Hernandez was shot in the neck and lost control of the car, according to Holliday.

Holliday said Hernandez crashed into a car a little farther down the street, and this is when he alleges that Nelson came up and shot him and Jenkins, shooting Jenkins in the head twice, killing him.

Holliday said there was a witness to the shooting who would be testifying later in the week, but two men who saw the car Holliday said was being driven by Nelson testified on Tuesday. One man said he saw a black male wearing a hat drive past, while the other said he recognized Nelson’s car.

Nelson’s defense attorney, Shayla Marshall, told the jury that her client had been falsely accused, and that the man who had told police the car belonged to Nelson set into motion the case against the man.

Marshall said that Hernandez, who named Nelson as the shooter after waking up from a coma several days later, had been informed that Nelson was the shooter through the grapevine that started with this witness.

Marshall cross-examined the state’s witnesses throughout the first day of the trial, asking if it was possible that the crime scene could have been affected by several people who were trying to get to the car where Jenkins and Hernandez had been shot.

She also brought to light that the man who had identified the black sedan as Nelson’s vehicle had not seen the shooting take place or seen Nelson that night. It was disclosed by Holliday that Nelson had dated the witness’s mother at some point, but Marshall was able to reveal that the relationship involved fighting and had resulted in that young man living with his grandmother.

Marshall also brought up that the witness had been working with police in an effort to solve a relative’s murder, and was hoping to get more information about that case by disclosing information about Nelson.

The trial will continue this morning at 8:45 a.m., and could last until Saturday morning. If found guilty, Nelson could face life in prison.

County wind opponents formalize campaign

A group of rural Buchanan County residents gathered Tuesday night to better establish an ongoing campaign that opposes the location of wind turbines near St. Joseph.

Friends of Buchanan County met at Bessie Ellison Elementary School east of St. Joseph, attracting a crowd of about 200 residents interested in learning more about efforts to persuade county officials to refrain from a potential project to build a wind facility.

NextEra, a Florida-based energy firm, has expressed interest in the chances of constructing a wind project somewhere in the county, and met with county officials in January. Many residents on the east and northeast sides of the county believe their areas are being viewed for such development. County officials have been working toward fashioning an ordinance that would regulate wind farms, but that document remains incomplete. Black & Veatch of Kansas City is consulting with the county in preparing a draft ordinance.

Deb Birr, one of the originators of the Friends, said the group has a goal of collecting 1,000 signatures for a petition that asks the Buchanan County Commission to enact a setback of wind turbines of at least 1 mile from the property lines of all nonparticipating landowners, except for nonparticipating landowners who waive the right in writing. Slightly more than 200 signatures have been secured.

Another Friends founder, Anita Simon, explained the petition’s importance.

“We believe that’s a common-sense recommendation, based on the things we think are important,” she said. “As in our property rights, our health and welfare, and even our economic development.”

Barry Birr, another Friends member, said organizing the group was based on an invitation from a member of the Buchanan County Planning and Zoning Commission. That commission can only recommend approval of an ordinance, which must be ultimately approved by the County Commission.

“We don’t think this is right for Buchanan County,” he said. “Our position is that wind energy may be appropriate for some areas, especially for sparsely populated areas.”

The county’s dense population is a major mitigating factor against introducing wind turbines, according to Barry Birr.

“I think the commission should take a real hard look, a good close look, at this,” he added.

Besides signing the petition, residents also had the opportunity to purchase T-shirts for the campaign and procure yard signs. The materials were bought out of pocket by the founding members.

Barry Birr said the concern over the size of the setbacks pertains to a sense that rural residents could lose a say-so over what they can do on their property.

Lynn Anderson also spoke and wondered over the intricacies that may become part of a future decommissioning of the turbines.

“They (officials) don’t know what’s going to happen 50 years from now,” he said. “I don’t know if wind turbines would add to tourism.”

Anderson said he does not oppose research into other forms of energy to produce electricity, including solar.

The residents also learned how to navigate the organization’s new website, friendsofbuchanancounty.com.

No members of the County Commission attended the session. News-Press NOW reached out to Presiding Commissioner Lee Sawyer, who said he was aware of the group’s gathering.

Sawyer said a tour of a NextEra facility in DeKalb County has yet to be organized.

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Hawley cites China as greatest American security challenge

Americans have long fought against any nation’s domination of others, Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley believes.

Such opposition dates at least to the Monroe Doctrine, the senator said. In World War II, the United States took up arms to stop Germany’s expansion throughout Europe. In the Cold War, the nation worked for decades to stop the spread of Communism.

Americans, Hawley said Tuesday, now face a new threat.

“China’s bid for domination is the greatest security threat to this country in this century. Our foreign policy around the globe must be oriented to this challenge, focused principally on this threat,” the Republican told a think tank audience.

“This is a bid for mastery by an authoritarian and imperial state that we fundamentally can not trust and that we fundamentally can not ignore.”

Hawley gave his speech to the Center for a New American Security, a Washington-based public policy group that declares itself bipartisan and centers its research on “strong, pragmatic and principled national security and defense” initiatives.

The Missourian focused on China, whose aggressive approach to regional neighbors and international commerce has made it a nation whose bullying must be kept in check.

“In Asia, the great security challenges of the 21st century are now playing out,” Hawley said. “And it is here that any policies centered on American interests must focus.”

The senator has been a frequent critic of China’s data collection from social media apps like TikTok and the commercial pressure the Asian country applies to American companies like Disney and the National Basketball Association.

Last month, Hawley went to Hong Kong to meet pro-democracy demonstrators who say China’s strong-armed tactics restrict basic human liberties.

He admitted that the Chinese people buy products made in the United States and that the nation has granted some measure of access to its markets.

“But for years this growing commercial relationship with China has concealed another and inconvenient truth,” he said. “Our producers and our workers are increasingly at the mercy of the Chinese Communist Party. China is building its military and economic power on the backs of our own working class.”

In the question period that followed, Richard Fontaine, chief executive of the center, wondered about how Hawley’s concerns translated to his constituents in Missouri and other Americans.

“If Asia is dominated by China, we know that those are the allies over there, we know that those are the partners,” Fontaine said. “What does that do to the people who are living in the United States who don’t really want to think about China every day?”

“What it does is we can not continue the prosperity of our middle and working class,” Hawley replied. “The Indo-Pacific is a region that is absolutely vital to us. We have to be able to trade in that region, we have to have access to that region on free and equal terms.”

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Missouri Western announces addition of women's lacrosse

Missouri Western announced the addition of women’s lacrosse as the 17th NCAA Division II varsity sport at the university during a press conference Tuesday evening.

President Matthew Wilson and Vice President of Intercollegiate Athletics Dr. Josh Looney both detailed aspects of Missouri Western’s plan, which should have a team active for the 2020-2021 school year. Missouri Western will be the only public Division II member in the state of Missouri sponsoring women’s lacrosse.

A national search has begun for the program’s head coach, who will hopefully be in place before the end of winter.

Regarding the cost of bringing such a program to MWSU, Looney said it’s largely inexpensive. One of the largest costs will be hiring a coach, he added. As Missouri Western already sports both indoor and outdoor facilities, equipment would be next in line to purchase.

“It’s not a heavy investment sport like the men’s game would be, where you need shoulder pads and other things,” Looney said. “It’s a sport that does not have a whole lot of costs from the kickoff side. … I would say that the costs are minimal from that standpoint. If we had to build and construct locker rooms, put in a new turf field and those types of things, then it probably wouldn’t work here because of those costs. But fortunately we were able to start this and be very aggressive and launch it in 2020-2021.”

Wilson had approached Looney about bringing lacrosse to Missouri Western upon being initiated as the university’s president.

“As we look to be strategic, to invest in students and look for ways to make sure that we’re revenue-positive, this is a major consideration,” Wilson said. “I mean, we’re not going to bring anything in that isn’t going to attract students and that’s not going to retain students. … From everything that we have modeled, it is something that will definitely be revenue-positive for us.”

Wilson added that women’s lacrosse is one of the fastest NCAA sports, with a 58% increase in sports sponsorship over the past 10 years.

He said that through the various changes Missouri Western has made since he took over as its president, including the upcoming addition of Gold Fridays as well as the university’s new Center for Service, now is the perfect time to bring a new sport to campus.

“We’re retooling for the future and going through a transformation. That’s the perfect time to make different moves that are going to make you distinctive, that are going to make you attractive to prospective students. Oftentimes you will see universities, particularly in the competitive environment that we have today, talking about cutting sports. I would much rather make an investment and do it in a fiscally responsible manner, such that it is bringing in students,” Wilson said. “We’ve got the opportunity as a public institution that has very affordable education, that’s very hands-on and practical, where we’re giving students access to full professors in the classroom from day one to go out and say, ‘Hey, you’ve got an affordable option; top-quality facilities; a great, athletic staff; wonderful opportunities; a beautiful campus in a safe environment.’ And you’re able to come here and do it at an affordable price while pursuing not only that top-quality education, but also you’re able to do that while you play lacrosse as well.”

Both he and Looney mentioned Spratt Stadium as well as the indoor facility as huge draws on campus for those looking to participate in lacrosse.

Furthermore, Wilson said the plan will be beneficial from a Title IX perspective as well.

“That’s one of the things that we need to pay attention to constantly is the Title IX requirements. And here we are adding a women’s sport that will increase our female-student-athlete population by 30 or thereabouts. I mean, this is another great thing about adding versus subtracting is that we really are strengthening our female presence both on the field and in the classroom as well,” Wilson said. “So that’s another benefit, and it was something that we talked about when making this move.”