Garland Nelson, a Northwest Missouri man accused of killing two Wisconsin brothers over a cattle deal, won’t be able to meet with his lawyers in the same room until a judge hears from public health officials.
Nelson appeared at a hearing on Tuesday. His pretrial proceedings were moved from Caldwell County, Missouri, where he’s been detained since last year, to Warrensburg, Missouri, earlier this year because of publicity.
Court proceedings focused on jail procedures during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I understand why you’d want to meet in person,” Johnson County Judge Michael Wagner ruled from the bench. “(However) I’m not a medical professional... we’re missing someone here and I’d like to hear from the Caldwell County health department.”
Wagner set a Dec. 22 hearing that’s to include testimony from public health officials.
Patrick Berrigan, Nelson’s lead counsel, argued his team must be allowed contact visits because he’s facing such a serious charge.
“This case has already been delayed and we’re trying to get it going,” Berrigan said.
Nelson was arrested in July of 2019 and has been held without bail since then. Prosecutors say he killed Nicholas and Justin Diemel, two brothers who were in the cattle business with Nelson.
A trial date has not been set in the case.
During the Tuesday hearing, Caldwell County Sheriff Jerry Galloway and a jail administrator testified about the facility’s COVID-19 procedures. During questioning, they said 24 inmates at the jail were serving state sentences or facing state charges.
Some 120 to 130 inmates were being held on federal charges. None have tested positive for COVID-19. Lawyers argued over the sufficiency of a laptop the jail has available for defendants to view evidence on with their lawyers.
Berrigan said he had thousands of pages of documents to review with Nelson, on top of video and audio recordings. Officials testified that the laptop was also used to hold remote court proceedings and would not be available to Nelson and the defense team at all times.
Stephen Sokoloff, a special prosecutor assigned to the case, said the state would make a laptop available if need be.
Still, Berrigan argued that Nelson’s rights wouldn’t be sufficiently upheld if he was forced to review the documents and recordings through a plexiglass wall, which the jail currently is requiring for all visits.
Berrigan argued that the library at the jail could be used for contact visits and that the defense team would sign waivers to have a contact visit if necessary.
The two sides also scuffled over the impact an order by the judge may have, with officials testifying that they haven’t been asked by other lawyers to have contact visits.
“It’s not like we’re opening the floodgates,” Berrigan said.
Sokoloff contended that other attorneys have asked for contact visits, and that an order by the judge in Nelson’s case would set a precedent for other cases.