A Caldwell County judge found the prosecution had met its initial burden in the stealing case of Garland Joseph Nelson, who also faces capital murder charges.

Judge Jason Kanoy swiftly found probable cause after a virtual court hearing that lasted just under an hour on Friday afternoon.

The state, through a special prosecutor, called three witnesses: Shyanne Huffman, the alleged owner of the semi-truck that was stolen; Maj. Tony Kirkendoll, a sheriff’s deputy; and Jared Tarpening, the man who allegedly took the truck on Nelson’s behalf.

Nelson has entered a not guilty plea to the stealing charge, just as he did in the capital murder case, which involves the deaths of two brothers from Wisconsin. The case was bound over to circuit court, and Nelson will next appear on Oct. 12.

Prosecutors presented what they view as a cut-and-dry theory of the crime: Nelson was heard on recorded jailhouse phone calls asking Tarpening to take the truck, which didn’t belong to him.

Tarpening admitted he started the truck without the key, essentially “hot wiring” the system. He also said the truck had no plates, and he never saw a title or registration.

Huffman, the alleged owner of the vehicle, told the court she was out of town from Memorial Day last year and remained away when the truck was allegedly stolen that September. She testified to never meeting Nelson and never permitting him to purchase the truck.

Under cross-examination, Tarpening testified that he did knock on Huffman’s door to let someone know he was working on the truck and planning to take it but that nobody answered. He also testified that the door to the home was “busted in” and that he yelled to see if anyone was home.

Tarpening is not facing any charges in the case and said he didn’t receive any type of legal benefit or immunity to testify. Tarpening met Nelson when both were incarcerated at the Caldwell County Detention Center.

The defense asked Kirkendoll, the sheriff’s deputy who listened to the jailhouse phone calls, if Nelson explicitly said he owned the truck. Kirkendoll said that was the general idea but couldn’t recall Nelson’s exact words.

Kirkendoll confirmed he’d already been listening to Nelson’s calls before the truck was taken for “another investigation,” presumably the murder charges Nelson faces.

When Kirkendoll heard a truck had been stolen in Braymer, Missouri, where Nelson lived before he was charged, he said he checked the latest phone calls Nelson had made.

The prosecution didn’t delve into Nelson’s potential motive at Friday’s hearing and never established a theory on why Nelson would want to allegedly steal the truck.

Tarpening said he and Nelson never agreed on a specific price for the work Tarpening would have to do to repaint and work on the truck. Instead, Tarpening testified that he was to work with Nelson’s mother to sort out an arrangement, which never happened.

Matt Hoffmann is a our lead investigative reporter. He can be reached at matt.hoffmann@newspressnow.com. Follow him on Twitter: @NpNowHoffmann.

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