Until earlier this month, Spokane Police detectives working three years to solve a brutal 2001 slaying had never come across the name of Raymond L. Nelson III.
But thanks to a statewide database of DNA samples collected from convicted felons, Nelson, 25, now faces a first-degree murder charge, along with another man who had been a suspect from the beginning.
That man, 24-year-old Theodore F. Stewart, had his first appearance Friday on the same first-degree murder charge. Both Nelson, who is currently in prison, and Stewart are being held on $1 million bonds, Sgt. Joe Peterson said.
The two men were charged in connection with the March 2001 killing of 40-year-old Diana Dee Wideman. She was found slashed, bludgeoned, raped and strangled on March 25, 2001, in apartment No. 205 at 123 N. Bernard.
Wideman lived on Social Security checks, had mental problems, Peterson said.
“This woman had not been treated well in life,” he said. “But she got first-class treatment in the investigation of her case. You wouldn’t have got a more thorough investigation if it was the governor of this state.”
Stewart refused a request Friday for a jailhouse interview. But he spoke with The Spokesman-Review last year, when he was named a suspect in court documents.
“I’m not a murderer, man,” Stewart told a reporter on June 24, 2003. “The only thing I could kill is a fly.”
According to court records, Wideman suffered blunt impacts to her head, a fractured nose, a lacerated upper lip and knife cuts to her face and neck. Peterson said the cause of death was asphyxiation caused by black electrical tape wrapped around her neck.
Now-retired detectives Richard Losh and George Benavidez processed the crime scene more than three years ago. They found hand-rolled cigarette butts and ashes on top of blood, indicating that someone had been inside the apartment after the killing, Peterson said.
A couple of weeks after she was discovered under a pile of clothes and a mattress, Losh interviewed Stewart several times. He had been living in the same apartment complex where Wideman was killed.
He admitted going inside Wideman’s apartment and seeing her hand underneath a pile of clothes, court documents state.
“Theodore Stewart was asked about seeing Diana Wideman’s finger move and her mumble. He said, ‘I see it moving in my head,’ ” according to court documents.
He also said he used Wideman’s tobacco to roll some cigarettes which he smoked. Crime lab technicians later tested those butts for DNA and found matches to both Wideman and Stewart, according to court records.
On June 18, 2003, Stewart submitted to a polygraph examination about his role in Wideman’s killing. “Theodore Stewart was deceptive when he said he did not cause the death,” court records show.
Peterson said detectives also had semen samples from the victim’s body. But when it was tested for DNA, it came back negative for Stewart.
“He had been a suspect previously. But we just didn’t have enough evidence on him,” Peterson said of Stewart.
About two weeks ago, Washington State Police forensic scientist Lisa Turpen again checked the semen DNA against the state database of convicted felons. That’s when it hit Nelson, who had been convicted of a felony after the database was checked last year, Peterson said.
Once they had a match, detectives Minde Connelly and Brian Hamond interviewed Nelson at the state prison on McNeil Island on June 14. In that interview, Nelson admitted both his and Stewart’s involvement in the killing, according to court records.
Nelson told the detectives that he went over to Stewart’s apartment and he used heroin while Stewart drank. Each took a pair of cloth gloves and Stewart took his backpack to Wideman’s apartment, records show.
“After they entered the apartment, Theodore Stewart took out a bar he had in his backpack,” Connelly’s report states. He used the bar to hit Wideman “on the head and upper body. Raymond Nelson admitted that he hit Diana Wideman too.”
Nelson said he carried a knife with a 12-inch blade with a dragon handle. The records don’t say whether police believe that knife was used against Wideman.
“Raymond Nelson admitted he had sex with Diana Wideman,” Connelly wrote.
Both men smoked in the apartment afterwards, Connelly wrote.
“Theodore Stewart contacted Raymond Nelson on a later date and said he had gone back to Diana Wideman’s apartment to make sure everything was all right. Nelson clarified that meant to be sure no evidence was left behind,” Connelly wrote.
Peterson said it’s unclear which suspect caused the injury that resulted in Wideman’s death. Detectives still don’t know why she was killed.
“The motive is a frustrating thing,” Peterson said. “The motive really was that they could.”
Connelly inherited the case after Losh and Benavides retired in 2002. After she and Hamond got the interview with Nelson last week , she called the retired detectives.
“I appreciated that, because you hate to have an open homicide investigation when you leave,” Losh said. “I’m just glad they kept working on it.”
Peterson praised Connelly’s work, which whittled one more off the current list of 60 unsolved homicides dating back to 1958.
“People don’t understand the work and effort that goes into these cold cases,” Peterson said. “Her work in this case was spectacular. It was a great investigation.”