Criminal proceedings were suspended Thursday after doubt was declared about the mental competency of a man charged in the shooting deaths of an off-duty Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputy and another man, along with a series of robberies in Long Beach and the San Diego area.
Rhett McKenzie Nelson, 31, of St. George, Utah, is expected to be examined by two doctors.
Nelson — whose case is due back in a downtown Los Angeles courtroom June 10 — had been awaiting a hearing to determine if there is sufficient evidence to require him to stand trial on two counts of murder for the shootings of off-duty Los Angeles County sheriff’s Deputy Joseph Gilbert Solano in Alhambra and Dmitry Alekseyevich Koltsov in downtown Los Angeles hours apart on June 10, 2019.
Nelson — whose family in Utah reported him missing in May 2019 and noted that he had a history of opiate abuse — allegedly shot Solano twice in the head at a Jack in the Box restaurant at 2531 W. Valley Blvd. The 50-year-old deputy died two days later at County-USC Medical Center.
Nelson allegedly shot Koltsov, 31, hours earlier in the 1900 block of East Seventh Place, between Santa Fe Avenue and Alameda Street, in downtown Los Angeles. Koltsov was among a group of skateboarders whom Nelson allegedly fired on from a moving vehicle.
A motive for the killings remains unclear.
Nelson is also charged with one count of attempted murder, along with two robberies in Long Beach hours after Solano’s shooting.
The defendant was arrested in Long Beach the following day.
The San Diego County District Attorney’s Office has asked the judge to sever five other robbery counts stemming from an alleged armed robbery spree in the San Diego area between June 7-9, 2019. A decision on that motion was deferred in light of the issue over whether Nelson is mentally competent to stand trial.
San Diego County District Attorney Summer Stephan agreed last year to allow the Los Angeles County District’s Attorney’s Office to prosecute Nelson for the San Diego crimes with the understanding that he would face a potential sentence of life imprisonment without the possibility of parole if convicted, according to a letter she sent in January.
Once L.A. County’s newly elected top prosecutor, George Gascón, moved to drop sentence-enhancing allegations, Stephan asked to try the robberies locally. A judge subsequently denied a request by Los Angeles County prosecutors to dismiss the sentencing allegations.
“The interests of justice would best be served in this case by trying the San Diego counts in San Diego,” according to court papers filed in February by the San Diego County District Attorney’s Office. “It would be a great inconvenience for the many store clerks and police officers involved in the five separate robberies that occurred in different parts of San Diego County to have to travel up to Los Angeles to testify. Further, given the current philosophical disconnect between the district attorneys of the two counties, it would constitute `good cause’ to let each dispose of the charges that occurred in each county consistent with their respective philosophies.”
Stephan’s comments represent some of the criticism leveled at Gascón, who was elected on a platform of reforming the prosecution system and quickly issued directives to eliminate sentencing enhancements and other allegations that can lead to higher prison terms for defendants in many cases when he was sworn into office last December.
In February, a judge issued a preliminary injunction that ruled mostly in favor of the Association of Deputy District Attorneys for Los Angeles County in a petition brought against Gascón, saying he cannot order his prosecutors to ignore laws that the union says protect the public, including three-strike allegations and sentencing enhancements.
>> Want to read more stories like this? Get our Free Daily Newsletters Here!Follow us: