A Federal Way man arrested earlier this month for an alleged assault on his current girlfriend was charged this week with second-degree murder, accused of fatally shooting his ex-girlfriend in 2017 and dumping her outside a Federal Way hospital, according to King County prosecutors.
Richard Nelson, 41, was charged May 8 with second-degree assault domestic violence, accused of strangling his girlfriend in their apartment and threatening her with a gun April 30, charging papers say. A warrant was issued for his arrest.
On May 9, Nelson contacted Federal Way police and requested that officers perform a civil standby so he could retrieve his belongings from the apartment in the 2100 block of Southwest 337th Place, Federal Way police Cmdr. Kurt Schwan said. When Nelson showed up, he was arrested on the warrant and booked into the Maleng Regional Justice Center in Kent, where he was being held in lieu of $300,000 bail, according to Schwan and jail records.
Prosecutors charged Nelson on Tuesday with second-degree murder in the death of Crystal Hawkins, 27, who was shot in the back of the head and was left on the curb in front of St. Francis Hospital around 4 a.m. on Oct. 25, 2017, according to charging papers. Hawkins was pronounced dead in the hospital’s emergency room.
Nelson is being held in lieu of $2 million bail on the murder charge, jail and court records show.
“Although the defendant took substantial effort to cover his tracks, a thorough investigation by Federal Way Detectives led to the identification of the defendant as the killer,” Senior Deputy Prosecutor William Doyle wrote in charging papers.
Doyle detailed the April 30 assault on Nelson’s current girlfriend and described how he chased her through the parking lot of their apartment complex: “The defendant’s physical violence and threats to kill this victim with a handgun are even more chilling given the defendant’s homicide of his prior partner with a firearm,” Doyle wrote.
Nelson does not have any prior felony convictions. He had a valid concealed-pistol license and legally owned two firearms, a 9 mm handgun and a .40 caliber handgun, charging papers say.
According to the charges:
A hospital employee arriving to work saw a car leave the roundabout outside the hospital’s entrance, then saw a woman lying halfway in the roadway. The employee called 911. Hawkins died at the hospital, and her death was ruled a homicide.
A few hours later, Hawkins’ car was found abandoned at a mobile-home park in Kent. Federal Way police took custody of the vehicle, which had blood in the front passenger seat and blood in other areas inside and on the exterior of the car. A 9 mm casing was found on the floorboard, the charges say.
In an interview with police, Hawkins’ mother said her daughter left their apartment around 2 a.m. and said she was going to see a friend at a nearby apartment complex. Her mother went to bed and discovered when she woke up that Hawkins hadn’t returned home, her car was missing and Hawkins was not responding to phone calls and text messages, according to the charges.
Hawkins’ mother gave detectives the names of her daughter’s current and former boyfriends. She said Hawkins had dated Nelson for about a year before breaking off the relationship several months before her death. Nelson wanted to get back together but Hawkins didn’t, her mother told police.
One of Hawkins’ friends contacted police several days later and said Hawkins had previously engaged in prostitution, according to the charges. The friend accessed Hawkins’ email account and found a thread from the day Hawkins died, setting up a meeting with an unknown person for sex.
Police interviewed Nelson in November 2017, and he claimed he had broken up with Hawkins and last saw her three days before her death, according to the charges. At the time, Nelson lived in Burien and worked at a shipyard in Seattle’s Ballard neighborhood.
Nelson’s fingerprints were ultimately found on the exterior of Hawkins’ car, and scientists at the State Patrol Crime Lab determined he was a possible contributor to a mixed DNA profile found on the driver’s side door pull, the charges say.
Detectives obtained search warrants for Nelson’s cellphone data and email accounts and found that Nelson had used a fake name to set up an email account “that was created for the explicit use of communicating with Hawkins,” a detective wrote in the charges.
The charges say Nelson, calling himself “Dave,” initiated an email conversation with Hawkins at 12:18 a.m. on Oct. 25, 2017, and lured her to a Kent apartment complex under the pretense of meeting her for sex. According to the emails, Hawkins arrived at 3:29 a.m. and knocked on the door of a unit but got no response. She wrote that she was leaving and was terrified because she was alone and there were no lights on, the charges say. He responded that he’d been in the bathroom and would meet her at the door.
His last message was sent at 3:39 a.m., about 20 minutes before Hawkins was found outside the hospital, the charges say.