CALDWELL -- The man prosecutors called the "mastermind" behind a robbery at Lake Lowell that left one man dead last April is headed to prison.

Jayson Woods, 29, was sentenced Tuesday to life in prison, with at least 28 years before he can seek parole.

It's the same sentence handed down Monday to Woods' co-defendant Kelly Schneider, who admitted to kicking 49-year-old Steven Nelson to death with steel-toed boots. Prosecutors argued that although Woods was not present during the robbery, he was just as responsible for Nelson's death.

“He ought not to be rewarded because he was too cowardly to carry out that robbery with his own hands," Prosecutor Christopher Boyd said. 

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Boyd called Woods a "serial exploiter" who used Schneider - a man he knew was homophobic and violent - to carry out the robbery. 

Woods' money-making schemes started with pimping prostitutes using online ads, but quickly turned to "grab-and-go" robberies, in which he instructed the prostitutes to steal from the men who answered those ads.

But by April 29, 2016 - the day Nelson died - the plan had evolved.

"In short, a good man is dead because of the defendant's greed," Boyd said.

Woods set the trap, posting pictures of Schneider in sex-for-cash ads in the “men seeking men” section of The robbery ring intentionally targeted gay men, believing they were less likely go to the police if victimized.

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Nelson's father, Edgar Nelson, said the robbers were counting on men like his son to remain silent.

“Steven was gay. He was always gay, he was targeted because he was gay," he said. "It is our family’s belief that part of the reason he was in this situation was because the people who perpetrated this crime felt confident that they could do whatever they wanted to do to a gay man and they wouldn’t turn him in, because of his position in society, and the way society views the gay community."

Steven Nelson
Steven Nelson

After Nelson answered the ad, Schneider arranged their liaison for Gotts Point, where Woods had dropped off two other men to act as "backup" if Schneider needed it. Once the victim arrived, Schneider attacked, shouting anti-gay slurs and kicking him dozens of times with steel-toed boots while Nelson begged for his life.

Woods wasn't at Gotts Point when the attack happened, but he was under no illusions about the robbery either, Boyd contended.

"Take his car, you're going to need it," Woods texted the other men.

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Schneider complied, first stripping Nelson of his clothes and pocketing his wallet before getting into the victim's car and driving away to meet with Woods.

Barefoot, naked and bleeding, Nelson walked about a mile to the nearest house, where the occupants called 911. He was able to tell deputies what had happened and describe the attack, providing crucial details that led investigators to Woods, Schneider and the rest of the robbery ring.

Nelson died later that morning at Saint Alphonsus Regional Medical Center after going into cardiac arrest.

The murder devastated his parents and four siblings, who spoke during the hearing for the second time in as many days.

"If he couldn’t help you directly he’d find someone who could. He cared for people," his brother Dennis Nelson testified."His death is our society’s loss."

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Nelson's sister, Connie Nelson-Cleverley, said the brutal circumstances of his death have left even her good memories of the victim tinged with horror.

"I can’t just remember my little brother and be sad he’s gone," she said. "What happened to him is always there too."

Lake Lowell 
Lake Lowell 

Woods apologized in court to Nelson's family and his own.

"I'm very sorry for their loss. I can't fathom the pain they're going through, with the loss of a brother and a son," he said. "From everything I've gathered, Mr. Nelson was a really good person."

His defense attorney Lary Sisson told the judge a childhood filled with abuse and abandonment had set the defendant up for failure.

"Mr. Woods' life proves that without the love and support of others, a person is almost destined to be defeated by life's struggles," he said. "Had Mr. Woods received the love and support that he deserved - and every child deserves - in all likelihood, he would not be in this courtroom today."

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Sisson argued Schneider - who took it upon himself to beat Nelson - should shoulder the majority of the blame for the victim's death. He also said that a more lenient sentence for Woods would be a tribute to Nelson's own philosophies of compassion, an argument that drew scoffs and shaken heads from the the victim's family members in the front row of the gallery.

But the prosecution rejected the idea that Woods should be allowed to distance himself from Nelson's killing.

"Without Jayson Woods, this crime does not happen," Boyd said. "Steven Nelson's blood is on his hands. His cries of pain, his pleas of mercy, are on this man's head."

Woods has 42 days to appeal the sentence.

Daniel Henkel and Kevin Tracy, the two remaining members of the robbery ring, are set to be sentenced May 1. Schneider's sentencing on federal hate crime charges connected to Nelson's death will be April 26.