Herald Sun

Tuesday, October 8, 2002

Wife Stabs, Kills Husband
Attorney Says: Don't Call Him Victim

By Brian Sharp
Iowa City, IA Press-Citizen

The wife of a former University of Iowa medical school dean argued Monday that she stabbed and killed her husband last Dec. 12 in self-defense to his "assaultive conduct" that morning.

Phyllis Nelson, 55, made the claim through her attorneys in a notice of defenses filed in Linn County District Court. Defense attorney William Kutmus declined to elaborate on the allegation, which went on to state that she had "the lawful right to protect herself from harm."

Richard Nelson, 54, was stabbed once in the heart at his Cedar Rapids apartment and died later in the day at St. Luke's Hospital. He was the executive dean for the UI College of Medicine.

Phyllis Nelson has pleaded not guilty to a charge of first-degree murder, also asserting that the stabbing was "an accident, and was an excusable homicide under Iowa law." Her trial is scheduled to begin Dec. 9.

The couple had separated and were in the middle of a divorce when Richard Nelson was stabbed, records show. Phyllis Nelson, of 1010 Highwood St. in Iowa City, allegedly drove to Cedar Rapids that morning.

She was not treated for any injuries Dec. 12.

However, assault, as defined by Iowa law, can include verbal threats that would reasonably put someone in fear of harm. Police have said there was no indication of a struggle in the apartment. Court records show that she "told police that her intent was to harm the victim."

Kutmus also filed a motion Monday making an unusual request for the court to require that Richard Nelson be referred to "by name or as the deceased" during trial.

"The characterization of Richard Nelson as a 'victim' in a criminal trial constitutes an implicit assertion of culpability toward the defendant," Kutmus said in the court filing.

First Assistant Linn County Attorney Harold Denton, who is prosecuting the case, could not comment on the self-defense claim under rules governing attorney conduct. Denton said the state likely will resist the defense request not to refer to Richard Nelson as a victim.