Nelson “Selena” Alvarez-Hernandez (Courtesy photo Council Bluffs Police Department)

Nelson “Selena” Alvarez-Hernandez

Homicide — SOLVED

Nelson “Selena” Alvarez-Hernandez
33 YOA
1613 S. 13th St., Apt. 1
Council Bluffs, IA
Pottawattamie County
Case # 03-004354
July 31, 2003

 

LATEST UPDATES

Council Bluffs man gets life without parole in 2003 slaying

Thursday, Aug. 21, 2014 | Omaha.com

James Cain Harris of Council Bluffs will spend the rest of his life in prison after his sentencing Wednesday at the Pottawattamie County Courthouse.

Fourth District Judge Greg Steensland sentenced Harris to life in prison without parole after his conviction for first-degree murder. On July 1, a jury found Harris guilty in the 2003 stabbing death of Nelson Alvarez-Hernandez.

Steensland also overruled a motion by Harris for a new trial.

Read Mike Brownlee’s full story at World-Herald News Service


Jury finds Harris guilty of first-degree murder

Wednesday, July 2, 2014 | nonpareilonline.com

A Pottawattamie County jury found James Cain Harris guilty of first-degree murder Tuesday, July 1, 2014.

The jury took almost seven hours to decide the fate of the 36-year-old, who stood before the court for his role in the stabbing death of Nelson Alvarez-Hernandez on July 31, 2003, at 1613 S. 13th St. in Council Bluffs.

Read the full story at the Daily Nonpareil


Case summary compiled by Jody Ewing

In the early morning hours on July 31, 2003, Nelson “Selena” Alvarez-Hernandez, 33, was stabbed to death in front of an apartment building located at 1613 So. 13th St. in Council Bluffs, Iowa.

Pottawattamie County in Iowa
Pottawattamie County in Iowa
Council Bluffs in Pottawattamie County, IA Council Bluffs in Pottawattamie County

Officers were dispatched at 1:59 a.m. to Apartment #1 regarding a disturbance, and reported that upon arrival they located a Hispanic male lying on the ground in front of the apartment building. He had been stabbed eight times.

The victim — who carried several ID cards and whose identity was not immediately known — was transported by ambulance to Creighton Medical Center in Omaha, Neb., where he died from his injuries.

The citizens who called 911 stated someone was yelling outside their front door, and that when they looked outside they observed several Hispanic or light-complected black males running from the area. When the yelling stopped, the citizens opened their front door and observed a Hispanic male lying on the ground, bleeding heavily.

Once the victim was identified as Alvarez-Hernandez, motives for the murder — possibly a hate crime — began to emerge.

Police collected several pieces of evidence from the crime scene and were able to develop a DNA profile, which was then compared to all DNA profiles in Iowa’s Forensic Casework and Convicted Offenders files. In 2003, the profile remained unidentified.

A Transgendered Life

Nelson Alvarez-Hernandez was born a male but lived part of his life as a woman.

Council Bluffs police detective Todd Weddum said Alvarez-Hernandez was “openly gay” and went by several aliases, both male and female, though he preferred the name “Selena” and often dressed as a woman. No evidence existed, however, to indicate Alvarez-Hernandez had been killed because of his sexual orientation, Weddum said.

In a WOWT news report that aired September 5, 2003, the Reverend Barbara Sagat with the Metropolitan Community Church said transgender people are disproportionately targeted in hate crimes.

“The number of transgender people who are killed in proportion to the numbers of transgenders in the population, has for many years been out of proportion,” said Sagat, whose church was one of several groups who organized a candlelight vigil for the victim on the Eugene Leahy mall in Omaha.

“We truly want to honor Selena’s life and we believe all life is sacred and the taking of Selena’s life, the murder of Selena, was a deplorable action,” Sagat told WOWT.

Calvin Fleming, Northwestern Regional Media Manager for GLAAD (Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation), traveled to Omaha to meet with community leaders and speak at the vigil. His editorial in Omaha’s local Gayzette called Selena’s brutal murder a wake-up call that [LGBTs] “still have a long way to go in terms of acceptance and understanding of our lives.”

Suspects in Alvarez caseCourtesy Council Bluffs Police Department
In September 2003, Council Bluffs police released these composites of two men they believed were responsible for Alvarez-Hernandez’s murder.
Composites Released

Council Bluffs police in early September 2003 released composite drawings of two men they believed killed Alvarez-Hernandez. One suspect was described as a very big man, weighing 300 pounds or more. The second man was described by witnesses as tall and muscular.

Police said they also knew at least two or three other people who were with the two men the night of Alvarez-Hernandez’s murder. They encouraged anyone with information about the murder to come forward.

Two Arrests Made

In late September 2013, the Iowa DCI Laboratory informed the Council Bluffs Police Department that a previously unknown DNA profile had been positively identified as 47-year-old Thomas J. Sanchez of LaVista, Nebraska.

thomas-sanchez-suspect-alvarez-hernandez-murderCourtesy photo Daily Nonpareil
Thomas J. Sanchez was arrested Jan. 23, 2014, after DNA evidence linked him to Alvarez-Hernandez’s murder. The charges were dismissed June 24, 2014.

The Council Bluff Police Department’s Criminal Investigation Division reopened the case, and Sanchez was arrested on Jan. 23, 2014 and charged with first-degree murder in Alvarez-Hernandez’s murder.

Sanchez was held in the Pottawattamie County Jail on a $1 million bond, and his trial originally expected to begin April 15, 2014. The case was continued and a new trial date set for July 8, 2014, but charges were dismissed on June 24,  2014.

On Tuesday, March 4, 2014, authorities made a second arrest in the case.

According to a Council Bluffs Nonpareil article dated March 6, 2014, James Cain Harris, 36, of Council Bluffs, was in custody after his arrest on suspicion of first-degree murder in connection with the case.

“We’ve had him for a long time in our sights, finally have enough put together to corroborate a lot of things we knew,” Sgt. David Dawson told the Nonpareil.

Harris was also held at the Pottawattamie County Jail on a $1 million bond, and his trial began June 24, 2014.

On July 1, 2014, the jury found Harris guilty of first-degree murder.

On Wednesday, Aug. 20, 2014, Fourth District Judge Greg Steensland sentenced Harris to life in prison without the possibility of parole.


FORMER CASE UPDATES

Prosecution alleges murder over money, drugs as Harris trial begins

By Mike Brownlee | World-Herald News Service

June 25, 2014

james-cain-harris-suspect-alvarez-hernandez-murderCourtesy photo Daily Nonpareil
James Cain Harris was arrested March 6, 2014. His trial began Tuesday, June 25, 2014. 

The murder trial of James Cain Harris started Tuesday afternoon with the prosecution detailing its version of events that led to the death of Nelson Alvarez-Hernandez.

Harris, 36, is charged with first-degree murder for his alleged actions on July 31, 2003.

“The evidence will show that Harris repeatedly stabbed Nelson Alvarez-Hernandez while robbing him,” Jon Jacobmeier, chief deputy attorney with the Pottawattamie County Attorney’s Office, told the jury, noting that the suspect allegedly took money and drugs from the victim.

After jury selection in the morning, Jacobmeier gave the opening statement for the prosecution in the afternoon.

Jacobmeier discussed the night in question, noting that Harris and then-girlfriend Stephanie Strange met Alvarez-Hernandez at an Omaha bar earlier in the evening, late on July 30. The two men decided to head back to Alvarez-Hernandez’s apartment for drugs, Jacobmeier said, citing statements from Strange.

The alleged stabbing occurred around 2 a.m. that morning outside a home at 1613 S. 13th St.

The case went cold after an extensive investigation in 2003.

Several pieces of evidence collected at the scene were used to create a DNA profile that belonged to an unknown male. The profile was compared to profiles in state databases, but remained unidentified.

Jacobmeier told jurors that in 2006, Strange, who’d broken up with Harris a few months after the alleged homicide, told police she believed Harris had killed the victim, having washed the alleged murder weapon at Harris’ behest. She told police she’d been afraid to come forward before because of threats from Harris.

But there wasn’t enough physical evidence for an arrest at the time.

In late September of 2013, the Iowa Department of Criminal Investigation notified the Council Bluffs Police Department that the previously unknown DNA profile had been positively identified as Thomas J. Sanchez, 47, of La Vista, Neb. The Council Bluffs Police Department reopened the case and followed up on new leads, with the work culminating in Sanchez’s arrest in January of this year. He’s currently scheduled to go to trial on July 8.

After Sanchez’s arrest and after interviewing Strange again, police built a case against Harris and arrested him in March.

Jacobmeier told the jury that a family that lived in the area will testify that Harris tried to force his way into their home, while their then-10- and 8-year-old daughters saw a black man in a blue muscle shirt outside the family’s picture window. Strange told police Harris was wearing a blue muscle shirt that night, which she’d recently given him as a gift.

Defense attorney Matthew Pittenger of Sioux City decided against making an opening statement Tuesday, opting to do so when the defense begins presenting its case. Asked for comment on the first day of proceedings, Pittenger said he “thought they went smoothly” and declined to comment further.

Copyright ©2014 Omaha World-Herald. All rights reserved.


Fate of Harris trial now in jury’s hands

By Mike Brownlee | World-Herald News Service

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

In his closing argument, Pottawattamie County Attorney Matt Wilber said evidence points to one fact – James Cain Harris killed Nelson Alvarez-Hernandez on July 31, 2003. Harris’ attorney, Marchelle Denker, said no physical evidence or eye-witness accounts tie her client to the crime and that the jury should find him not guilty.

The first-degree murder trial of Harris, 36, concluded Monday after closing statements were given by the prosecution and defense. A 12-person jury is scheduled to continue deliberations on the case this morning.

Wilber argued that the court knows Harris was with Alvarez-Hernandez of Omaha – who was 32 at the time of his death – in the last moments of the victim’s life.

Read the full story at the Omaha World-Herald

Copyright ©2014 Omaha World-Herald. All rights reserved.


Jury finds Harris guilty of first-degree murder

By Mike Brownlee | The Daily Nonpareil

July 2, 2014

A jury of 12 men and women found James Cain Harris guilty of first-degree murder Tuesday afternoon.

The jury took almost seven hours to decide the fate of the 36-year-old, who stood before the court for his role in the stabbing death of Nelson Alvarez-Hernandez on July 31, 2003, at 1613 S. 13th St. in Council Bluffs.

“I’m grateful,” Pottawattamie County Attorney Matt Wilber said after Fourth District Court Judge Gregory Steensland read the jury’s verdict. “This was a tough case. Police did a great job.”

As the decision was handed down, family and friends of Harris broke down, crying and hugging, in the front row of courtroom 4C at the Pottawattamie County Courthouse.

Harris faces life in prison without the possibility of parole. Sentencing is scheduled for 2 p.m. on Aug. 20.

On July 31, 2003, Alvarez-Hernandez had given Harris a ride from an Omaha bar to Council Bluffs, where the victim eventually pulled his vehicle over at 1613 S. 13th St.

The night ended with Alvarez-Hernandez stabbed to death just outside the door to the home.

Harris said Alvarez-Hernandez stopped at the house, telling the defendant he wanted to meet a friend. The prosecution asserted Harris knew the area, so he had the driver pull over there and then robbed the victim.

During his closing argument, Wilber theorized that the robbery started in the car, with the victim fleeing to the home, with Harris in chase. Alvarez-Hernandez was stabbed eight times.

After months of investigation, the case went cold in the fall of 2003, then was briefly reopened in 2006 before going cold again. In September 2013, a DNA hit connected blood from a $5 found at the scene to Thomas J. Sanchez, 47, of La Vista, Neb.

Sanchez’s arrest rekindled an investigation into the murder, which led detectives to zero in on Harris, who multiple people said was involved in the crime, including his brother.

“I was hesitant to do this case,” Wilber said, pertaining to the lack of DNA evidence tying Harris to the crime. “But the police were confident they could get him to talk.”

And talk Harris did.

The Metro Area Fugitive Task Force arrested Harris in March of this year. During a five-hour interview with detectives, the defendant’s story evolved from not knowing the victim to eventually saying he tried to help after another man attacked Alvarez-Hernandez. Harris admitted to being at the scene of the crime when it occurred.

“He provides the best evidence against him,” Wilber said. “He put himself there, at the scene. His statement … that was the smoking gun.”

The defense argued vehemently that no physical evidence tied Harris to the murder and that witnesses from the South 13th Street called by the prosecution couldn’t point the finger at Harris. Sioux City attorneys Marchelle Denker and Matthew Pittenger defended Harris. Both exited the court into a restricted area after the verdict and were unavailable for comment.

Stephanie Strange, who dated Harris for six months in 2003, was a key witness, telling police and the court that Harris had blood on him when she picked him up that July 31 night. Strange also told the court that Harris had her wash blood off a butterfly knife at a motel the pair and another woman checked into after the crime.

Wilber said Harris’ brother, Anthony Francis, was uncooperative in the investigation shortly after giving police Harris’ name. The state subpoenaed Francis to testify at the trial but he did not show up.

The prosecution offered Harris a plea deal, first-degree robbery, which would’ve brought a 25-year prison term, which the defendant would’ve had to serve at least 17 1/2 years of.

“He decided to take his chances,” Wilber said.

Charges against Thomas J. Sanchez, 47, were dismissed on June 24.

“Police turned over every stone trying to link Thomas Sanchez to the house, to the scene,” Wilber said.

Sgt. David Dawson with the Council Bluffs Police Department Criminal Investigation Division said the detectives he assigned to the Harris case, Brandon Danielson and Chris Anderson, “put a lot of work into this case,” as did then-detective (and now captain) Todd Weddum, who investigated in 2003.

“It’s been a long process,” Dawson said at the courthouse. “I’m pleased with our guys’ work and the work of the county attorney’s office.”

Copyright ©2014 Daily Nonpareil. All rights reserved.


Council Bluffs man gets life without parole in 2003 slaying

By Mike Brownlee | World-Herald News Service

James Cain Harris (Courtesy Omaha World-Herald)

James Cain Harris (Courtesy Omaha World-Herald)

Thursday, Aug. 21, 2014

COUNCIL BLUFFS — James Cain Harris of Council Bluffs will spend the rest of his life in prison after his sentencing Wednesday at the Pottawattamie County Courthouse.

Fourth District Judge Greg Steensland sentenced Harris to life in prison without parole after his conviction for first-degree murder. On July 1, a jury found Harris guilty in the 2003 stabbing death of Nelson Alvarez-Hernandez.

Steensland also overruled a motion by Harris for a new trial.

On July 31, 2003, Alvarez-Hernandez gave Harris a ride from an Omaha bar to Council Bluffs, where Alvarez-Hernandez was stabbed to death outside a home at 1613 S. 13th St.

After months of investigation, the case went cold in the fall of 2003, then was briefly reopened in 2006 before going cold again. In September 2013, a DNA hit connected blood from a $5 bill found at the scene to Thomas J. Sanchez, 47, of La Vista. In the investigation that followed, detectives zeroed in on Harris.

Copyright ©2014 Omaha World-Herald. All rights reserved.


About Nelson Alvarez-Hernandez

Nelson Alvarez-Hernandez was born May 11, 1970, the second of nine children born to Guatemalan parents.

He worked at a South Omaha meatpacking plant.

Sources:

Learn more about transgender Americans and find available resources at glaad.org.

One Response to Nelson Alvarez-Hernandez

  1. Brenda Harris says:

    Ya that’s true. But then they got to stay focused on the DNA. Instead of skin color

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