BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
PCC EDITOR – A Burlington man told a Lee County judge how, almost one year ago, he shot a Fairfield man in the eye and dumped his body at Indian Path Park along the Skunk River.
Joseph Mayorga, Jr., 35, Burlington, was accused of murdering 47-year-old James Merlin Nelson of Fairfield on or about Feb. 11, 2017. As part of a plea agreement with the Lee County Attorney’s office and Asst. County Attorney Bruce McDonald, Mayorga pleaded guilty on Tuesday in front of Judge Mark Kruse at the North Lee County Courthouse to a charge of 2nd degree murder.
Mayorga then waived all pre-sentencing procedures and requested immediate sentencing, to which Kruse, after a lengthy procedural discussion with Mayorga on his decision to waive his rights prior to sentencing, sent him to prison for 50 years.
Mayorga must serve at least 35 years of the sentence before he can be considered for any type of release. He was also ordered to pay $150,000 to the estate of Nelson.
Prior to sentencing, McDonald put Nelson’s brother, David Summers of Birmingham, on the stand to give a statement on behalf of the family.
Summers remained standing and looked at Mayorga, who remained cuffed throughout the hearing.
“Joe, you’ve taken from us a great friend, a great brother, and a great uncle. We wish so much we could be in your family’s position that we could go visit him. But we can’t, we’ve lost him forever. You’ve taken a great deal and we love him and we miss him so much. I prayed for the Lord for him to grant me forgiveness, I haven’t gotten that, but I will and I pray for your salvation. I just want you to know you’ve hurt us,” Summers said through broken words and tears.
Mayorga made a statement apologizing to the family and said both families have suffered.
“Nothing can take back my actions, Mayorga said in red county fatigues. “I apologize greatly. We’ve all suffered – my family as well as yours. I’m sorry for my actions and for that I’ll pay for the rest of my life. I apologize,” he said standing and addressing 15 members of Nelson’s family and friends.
Judge Kruse asked Mayorga to explain the details of the shooting.
Mayorga said he and Nelson were sitting in his 2007 Chevy Impala in the garage of his residence in Burlington talking when Nelson said something that angered Mayorga.
“He said something about my wife and I became enraged and I shot him,” Mayorga said.
Kruse asked what weapon was used, to which Mayorga replied a .38 caliber revolver. Kruse then asked where he shot Nelson.
“In the eye,” he replied.
Kruse asked Mayorga if he realized that shooting someone at close range could kill him.
“I didn’t…I guess I kind of blacked out at that point. I didn’t understand what was going on…there was a lot going on,” he said.
Kruse asked Mayorga if the crime happened in Lee County, to which Mayorga responded it hadn’t. That caused a brief delay as Mayorga’s attorney Allen Cook and McDonald met with the judge to discuss the issue of the crime happening in Burlington and a possible venue issue.
However, after a brief recess to review the case law on crimes being committed in one county and the body disposed in another, the issues were resolved as Mayorga, after discussion with his attorney, waived any venue issues.
“It was the same night that I drove him to Indian Path, which is in Wever, Iowa in Lee County, and disposed of his body right there,” Mayorga said.
Cook said Mayorga was willing to waive those venue issues to prevent the case starting all over and wanted to put the issue behind him.
Nelson’s body was discovered at the park at about 11 a.m. on Feb. 11 by visitors of the park. According to family members, Nelson was working construction at the Iowa Fertilizer Company prior to his death, but they weren’t sure what his job status was when he was killed.
On Feb. 11th, the Lee County Sheriff’s Office responded to a call of a possible deceased person at a Lee County roadside park near Wever, Iowa.
Upon arrival, a male subject, later identified as 47-year-old Nelson, was found deceased. An autopsy performed on Nelson determined that he was killed by a single gunshot to the head. According to Iowa Department of Criminal Investigations Special Agent Rick Rahn, since the body was discovered in Lee County, the court case would be handled there, however Mayorga had the option to ask for a change of venue.
Mayorga had been incarcerated in Muscatine County on a federal gun charge but was transported to Lee County on Sept. 28 to face murder charges. Information was sketchy at the trial as to the disposition of the guns charge, but Kruse said the sentence would run concurrent to any probation or parole associated with that case.