Pastor Gregory Clemons has married off hundreds of couples, but he still can’t believe he wed an accused murderer to the only eyewitness of the triple homicide.
Joseph Nelson is accused of killing his ex-girlfriend Bianca Fletcher, their 1-year-old son JoJo, and Fletcher’s 18-year-old boyfriend Shannon Rollins. On Sept. 8, authorities say Nelson shot all three to death after an argument while Shellana Davis, his girlfriend, watched. Now the two are married and thanks to that she may not be compelled to testify against Nelson.
“I felt like they were getting closer to God. But I did not know about the murders… I just regret it now,” Clemons told The Daily Beast a week after learning what the two allegedly did.
“It could possibly be my last wedding because I don’t want to be in this kind of situation again,” Clemons said. Ever since he discovered his blessing could cause an unholy outcome, the pastor says he’s been repenting “in prayer.”
The behind-bars love affair becoming an official marriage could grant a lifeline for two accused killers.
Like any wedding, Nelson and Davis set a date, Dec. 7, and a venue: a visitation cubicle inside the Jackson County, Missouri, detention center.
“There was glass between them,” Pastor Clemons said of the unorthodox ceremony. “We had phones and we prayed and we talked about studying the Bible.”
Nelson was outfitted in an orange jumpsuit and a kiss was out of the question so the couple improvised.
“Palms on glass,” Clemons said. “No exchange of rings. No kiss. I left them alone after that.”
And at the time the pastor never had any reason to question their motives, either.
“We were there because they felt like God had brought them together and they wanted to be joined in holy matrimony,” he said.”
And they seemed to be smitten.
“I read people’s faces and I feel I can see love in people’s faces. It was there at the same time I’m looking at them, not knowing they may have committed murder,” he said.
That’s what prosecutors say happened on Sept. 8 last year when Nelson and Davis rolled up to Fletcher’s home at 9:30 p.m.
A source close to the investigation confirmed that Nelson’s new girlfriend was embroiled in “drama” with Fletcher, who had only just begun dating Rollins for “a few weeks,” a source and family members confirmed.
“Shellana had an issue with the [old] girlfriend Bianca,” the source said. Nelson, the police report notes, was “sick of it.”
So Nelson and Davis barged into Fletcher’s home “unannounced” to “chill,” according to police.
Instead, Nelson began quarreling with his ex.
By most of accounts (save for Nelson’s where he told cops he was “asleep for most of the day” and denied any involvement), tensions rose to the point where Fletcher “threw a diaper at Nelson, which struck him,” according to the police report that quotes Nelson telling his friend, Mark Benson, what happened.
The cops heard two versions of what happened next.
One was from Benson, 23, who said the alleged murderer confided in him about the killings. The other was his fiancée Davis, who gave her own account of the bloodletting.
Either the diaper-disgraced Nelson rose up, pulled out a pistol, and fatally shot Fletcher before hunting down her boyfriend and his own son; otherwise, it was Davis that had actually killed Nelson, and then forced her boyfriend to prove his love by rubbing out potential eyewitnesses in Fletcher’s boyfriend and his own boy.
Benson told police that Nelson and Davis picked him up following the slayings and that Davis was inconsolable, wailing as they all drove off together.
When they arrived at Nelson’s home, the two talked on the porch. Nelson, according to the police report, announced, “I was there and saw it, so other things had to be done.”
Benson says Nelson right then copped to the worst of crimes.
“I did something bad,” he said. “I did something I don’t think I can live with… I killed them. I killed them.”
The diaper toss forced Nelson to go berserk.
“I lost it,” he told Benson, according to the police report.
When asked why Nelson shot to death Fletcher’s boyfriend and his own crying son, he answered point blank: “Witnesses.”
Apparently, the report adds, Nelson felt that JoJo’s crying would have drawn too much attention.
Nelson allegedly gave the murder weapon and a bag of shell casings to Benson, who told authorities he got rid of them.
Benson also said that Nelson charbroiled his and Davis’s blood-stained clothes in a barbeque pit and that Nelson “showered numerous times and washed his hands with bleach.”
Davis’s version mostly squares with Benson’s, save for a few details. She told police that the visit to Fletcher’s seemed civil; that the couple was sitting together inside Fletcher’s living room; that words got heated when Fletcher asked why Nelson brought along his new flame to her home. Then things went wrong.
Nelson ordered Fletcher to sit down and, according to Davis, she refused. Instead, she tossed a “household item” at Nelson, which missed him.
“Nelson then shot [Fletcher],” according to the police report. A frozen Davis winced as she watched as Nelson “check to see if she was dead.”Davis said then she “heard another gunshot” and turned her head away before she “then ran out of the house.”
She didn’t remain outside for long.
Nelson apparently ordered her back inside to collect “as many shell casings as she could find.”
Cops ultimately caught up to Nelson and prosecutors hit him with a raft of murder charges while Davis remained free. As detectives were busy trying to build a case that she was at least culpable in the triple homicide, Davis reached out to Pastor Clemons about getting married to the accused murderer sitting in jail.
“Shellana was very emphatic,” Clemons said. “She contacted me several times and and wanted to get in there and do this.”
The first call he remembered Davis simply asked if he could marry incarcerated couples.
“She called and asked, ‘Do you do weddings at the Jackson County Detention Center?’ and I told her, ‘I had done them. We can talk about it and meet down there. The caseworker has to approve it and there’s plenty of time to talk.’”
The pastor is struggling with the fallout since the news hit the couple was hitched. Yet he insists there were others in place to put a halt the couple’s wedding.
“I did not research their backgrounds, the people that issue the licenses do that. It has to go through a caseworker in the jail. It went through a string of people before I was allowed to come into that environment and do that.”
A month before Nelson and Davis became husband and wife, Jackson County’s prosecuting caught wind of the pending nuptials and raced to depose Nelson before it was too late.
“The State has now learned that on October 21, 2015, the defendant and Ms. Davis have filed an application with the Jackson County, Missouri Recorder of Deeds for a marriage license,” Jean Peters Baker wrote in a motion. Otherwise, Davis’s “testimony, in some respects, could become unavailable to the State after she is married to the Defendant.”
So the the prosecutor pleaded with the judge to be able to “preserver [Davis’] testimony by deposing her on video.”
Unfortunately, it appears the judge didn’t act in time to approve the motion.
Prosecutors have since filed another motion for special bond conditions so that Nelson could “be ordered to have no contact” with any of the witnesses in the case, including his wife. The fact that Nelson has “shown a willingness to contact witnesses… has been done for the purpose of impacting testimony.”
The prosecution faces multiple obstacles before the trial gets underway in October, especially regarding any statement by the former Miss Davis against her new husband, says Frank Bowman, a professor at the University of Missouri Law School.
First, she may have some criminal liability even if she didn’t kill anyone, since she allegedly admitted helping cover up the crime, Bowman said. Therefore she can avoid testifying simply on the basis of her Fifth Amendment right to not incriminate herself, which would be available to her even if she wasn’t married to Nelson. The prosecution could surmount this hurdle by asking the judge to grant her immunity from any charges in this case, Bowman added.
Second, Missouri has a “spousal testimony privilege.” That means the new Mrs. Nelson can refuse to testify against her husband about things “that happened during the marriage, but also things that happened before the marriage,” Bowman said. Like these killings.
However, if the prosecutors can convince the judge that the marriage was a “sham,” entered into for the purpose of creating a testimonial privilege, the privilege could be rendered void.
“Even if that marriage had all the bells and whistles like a marriage certificate—if it was meant to bar her from testifying then the privilege doesn’t apply,” Bowman said.
A partial solution to the privilege problem may lie in the fact that Missouri law voids the spousal privilege in cases with victims under 18, as two of the decedents were. Bowman said using this statute might require two different trials, one for the minor victims and one for the adult.
Finally, if Mrs. Nelson can’t be compelled to testify against her husband, you might think the prosecutors could use the statements she made to the police before she married and clammed up. However, those statements may be barred by the “Confrontation Clause” of the Constitution and rules against “hearsay.” Both those barriers might vanish if the judge believes the defendant engineered his “wife’s” silence by marrying her.
Her father, Andrew Hill, doesn’t believe it was a match made in love.
“I’m trying to get answers,” he told The Daily Beast, adding that Nelson corrupted his daughter. “She was on a good track and then she fucked it up. She met him and he’s a bad person and he has a bad history.
“I’m lost right now and trying to figure out how this happened.”
Still, getting pass the legal hurdles will be easier than getting over the three lives lost that night.
“At the end of the day a loved one is gone,” Rollins’s uncle Lee Washington, who says he helped raise the promising dancer, told The Daily Beast. “No matter if this guy and his woman goes back in the jail for the rest of their lives I don’t get any satisfaction because Shannon’s life was taken.”
The family has been “pitching in” to raise Rollins’s son and daughter who are now fatherless. The fact that his nephew’s alleged killers are now married further salts the wound torn open by bullets.
“The only way we get justice is if we kill that motherfucker ourselves and that ain’t going to happen,” he said. “And if they dupe the system it really doesn’t matter because we still lost Shannon. We still have a great kid gone that has a child left here without a father.”
The funeral was especially tough, his uncle said.
“We buried him on his 19th birthday.”
Washington remembered Rollins as a handsome heartbreaker.
“Shannon had a great smile and very likeable and was too smart for his own good,” he said.“Shannon had so many girls it was ridiculous. We had to change schools because he had so many girlfriends.”
The proud father who worked night shifts at various odd jobs to support his two babies was a means to a greater ends.
“His main goal in life was to get into showbiz,” Washington said.
Sometimes he collaborated with another KC dancer named Motherboard to form “Whiteout”:
But for all his talent and natural athleticism, it was a slow rise to fame. A few months back Rollins put up a testimonial on YouTube admitting how much of a struggle it’s been to shine as a dancer in his hometown.
“Everybody on here y’all my family; I love y’all… This shit’s hard, especially dancing. I’m coming out of Kansas City and there’s not that many dancers down there. I’m proud to say I’m one of the many few… That’s all a nigga needs is one viral video and I’m straight, man. That’s all I need. Help me out.”
The grieving uncle who helped raise Rollins said he was very much a victim of “being at the wrong place, wrong time.” But the real tragedy is that the gun-toting Nelson became unhinged over a diaper toss. “We have a society that turns out people like Joseph [Nelson],” Washington said. “He came up through the system, he was abandoned and he was forsaken.
“Nobody takes time to love him and teach him any empathy for others. When you grow up in the streets it’s a jungle out there.”