Judge rejects plea deal for man accused of throwing son from bridge

A judge rejected a plea agreement Monday that called for a man to receive a maximum 30-year sentence for throwing his 3-year-old son off a Baltimore bridge, calling it “too light under the circumstances.”

Stephen T. Nelson, 40, was scheduled to go on trial Monday in Baltimore City Circuit Court. His lawyers and Assistant State’s Attorney Julie Drake came to court with a plea agreement, but Judge George L. Russell III threw it out, then admonished the attorneys for showing up unprepared for trial.

“I’ve got an available trial court for a very serious case,” Russell said. “I thought that the plea was too light under the circumstances. I wouldn’t agree to it.”

Nelson is charged with first-degree murder and child abuse. He told police he threw his son, Turner Nelson, off the Francis Scott Key Bridge into the Patapsco River in February 2008. The boy’s body was found five months later.

According to court documents, Nelson killed his son in the midst of an argument with the boy’s mother about an exchange of custody, then tried to commit suicide.

Nelson has pleaded not criminally responsible, the equivalent of an insanity plea. A guilty plea would ensure that he serves prison time instead of being sent to a psychiatric hospital.

Drake told Russell that because she and Nelson’s attorneys had expected the case to be resolved with a guilty plea, they had instructed witnesses not to come to court, prompting a stern response from the judge.

“You called off your witnesses?” Russell asked, incredulously.

He sent the case to another judge, Charles Peters, for trial. Peters intends to review the case and asked attorneys to return to his courtroom Tuesday morning. During a bench conference, Peters and attorneys discussed the specifics of the proposed plea deal, which calls for Nelson to plead guilty to second-degree murder and receive a maximum sentence of 30 years.

“I don’t necessarily agree that 30 years is sufficient,” Peters said to the attorneys.

Drake and Nelson’s public defenders, Angela Shelton and Robert Linthicum, declined to comment on Monday’s developments.

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