SEVERE WX : Winter Weather Advisory View Alerts

Waiting to die: Keith Nelson execution

News 10's Alia Blackburn served as a media witness for Keith Nelson's execution.

Posted: Aug 29, 2020 12:02 AM
Updated: Aug 29, 2020 12:09 AM

TERRE HAUTE, Ind. (WTHI) - Nine minutes was all it took for Keith Nelson to die.

A lethal dose of pentobarbital was released into his body around 4:23 Friday afternoon. He was officially declared dead at 4:32.

Related Content 

WAITING TO DIE: DANIEL LEWIS LEE EXECUTION

WAITING TO DIE: WESLEY IRA PURKEY EXECUTION

WAITING TO DIE: DUSTIN LEE HONKEN EXECUTION

WAITING TO DIE: LEZMOND MITCHELL EXECUTION

Who is Keith Nelson? 

In his mid-20s, Nelson grabbed 10-year-old Pamela Butler off the street and threw her into his truck in broad daylight on Oct. 12, 1999. The fifth-grade student had been returning to her Kansas City, Kansas, home on inline skates after buying cookies at a store. As he drove off, he made a rude gesture to Butler’s sister, who saw the attack and screamed.
Nelson, who didn’t previously know Butler or her family, told a co-worker a month earlier he planned to find a female to kidnap, torture, rape and kill because he expected to go back to prison anyway on other charges, prosecutors said.

After raping Butler, Nelson strangled her with a wire, then dumped her body in a wooded area near a Missouri church.

Nelson was sentenced to death in 2002 for the kidnapping, rape, and murder of 10-year-old Pamela Butler from Kansas. In October 1999, court documents say Nelson abducted Butler, while she rollerbladed outside, near her home. Witnesses, including her sisters, saw the kidnapping happen, but Nelson was able to get away.

A few days later, Butler's body was found in a wooded area, behind a church, in Grain Valley, Missouri. After a short manhunt, Nelson was captured and pled guilty to the crime.

I served as a media witness for Nelson's execution, which was scheduled to happen Friday, at 4 p.m. Eastern, at the federal prison facility in Terre Haute. 

I got there just after 2 p.m. as media witnesses needed to be there by 2:30 for processing. Processing was very simple. It included showing two forms of ID, answering COVID screening questions, and filling out paperwork. We were given face masks and media badges for the duration of our time there. 

Around 2:45, we had a media briefing with the prison's PIO (public information officer)

LINK | KEITH NELSON HAS BEEN EXECUTED, BECOMING THE 5TH FEDERAL INMATE TO BE PUT TO DEATH IN TERRE HAUTE THIS YEAR

During the briefing, we found out Nelson was notified of his execution date on June 15, 2020. While on death row, he also had access to his spiritual advisor (Sister Barbara Battista of Sisters of Providence), his defense attorneys, along with magazines and reading material.

As for his execution, Nelson was allowed to invite six people as witnesses. His list included Sister Barbara Battista, his two defense attorneys, and three family members.

While eight members of Butler's family were allowed to attend, I only saw three (her mother, sister, and niece). That's because they addressed the media shortly after the execution.

Shortly after 3 p.m., we left the media center to board the prison buses for another round of processing. Similar to an airport, it's exactly like going through TSA, but with face masks. We took off our shoes, jewelry, went through metal detectors, screening questions, etc.

After that, we boarded the buses again to head to the death chamber. We got to the road, leading up to the facility, around 3:30 p.m. That's where we sat, and waited, for about 45-50 minutes. 

It wasn't until just before 4:20 p.m. that we'd be able to leave the van and go inside the chamber.

The room for media witnesses is pretty small, with about 12ish chairs and two windows facing the execution room. I sat in the front row on the right side. 

Shortly after we arrived, the curtains went up and in our view was Nelson, covered up to his neck on a gurney, with two men in suits on both sides of him.

The execution room instantly reminded me of an old doctor's office. It's a very clinical setting with light green tiles and somewhat dim lighting. To the right of Nelson's head was a square hole in the wall, you could see the IV tubes running through it to Nelson.

Nelson's fingers were chunky and pale, but had a hint of pink in them, which showed life. He had a big, round belly and I saw it moving up and down through the pale green sheet that covered him. Nelson had on a white face mask, looked straight up to the ceiling and had both arms stretched out on each side. 

Prior to the execution's start, Nelson was asked if he had any last words. It was completely silent. I never actually heard him verbally say "No". 

LINK | COMPLETE EXECUTION COVERAGE 

Around 4:23 was when the execution started, I noticed Nelson's stomach quickly moving up and down, which, to me, seemed like nervousness. Within minutes, his breaths became more shallow, slower and eventually just pulsations in his stomach... then, nothing at all. From what I could see, Nelson kept his gaze up to the ceiling for the procedure. His fingernails went from a hint of pink to blue by the end. 

Around 4:29, a doctor came out, checked his pulses and officially declared him dead.

Just as quickly as we got there, the curtains came down, we boarded the buses again and headed back to the media center for a press conference with Butler's family.

The press conference was more so question and answer based, the Butler family did not have a statement to read.

We asked a variety of questions, including the family's thoughts on Nelson's last words, or lack thereof. 

Cherri West, Butler's mother, said: "He's never had no remorse for her this whole time. He's never had no remorse for what he did to her, so, therefore, I have no remorse for him." 

West has also been through her share of pain, as she violently lost another daughter, after Pamela's passing.

West said, "My heart has literally been ripped out. It can't be fixed, but I do have my memories of my girls, and that's why I go on."

West and her family have continued to fight for closure over the last 20 years. They say it's a relief to finally close this chapter of their lives. 

"Pammy's soul is at peace," said West, "That was my number one goal is Pammy to get her justice so that she can rest. I don't ever feel that she was at rest, I think she was always behind me and guiding me to keep fighting, and that's what I've done."

"I admire my mom," said Amanda West, Cherri's daughter, "She is my hero because I could not do what she did. I would not survive."

"I feel like Pammy was there with her," Amanda continued. "Pammy couldn't rest until she knew her mom got the justice she was fighting for her, and now I feel like she can rest because of her mom, her mom did it."

I asked Butler's family what's next for them now that this is over.

"I was talking about that, with the girls, I said I'm going to have to start a new hobby because I've focused so much on doing this for the last 20 years," West said, "We're going to sit down and figure out something."

West mentioned the family has talked about creating a foundation in Pamela's name. She says it would be based on helping kids in memory of Pamela's love for reading to and helping other children. 

Terre Haute
Cloudy
34° wxIcon
Hi: 39° Lo: 33°
Feels Like: 28°
Robinson
Cloudy
33° wxIcon
Hi: 41° Lo: 33°
Feels Like: 26°
Indianapolis/Eagle Creek
Cloudy
32° wxIcon
Hi: 37° Lo: 32°
Feels Like: 24°
Paris
Cloudy
31° wxIcon
Hi: 38° Lo: 32°
Feels Like: 25°
Mattoon/Charleston
Cloudy
31° wxIcon
Hi: 38° Lo: 32°
Feels Like: 22°
Terre Haute
Cloudy
34° wxIcon
Hi: 39° Lo: 33°
Feels Like: 28°
Terre Haute
Cloudy
34° wxIcon
Hi: 37° Lo: 33°
Feels Like: 28°
Cloudy, Cold, Wednesday Snow
WTHI Planner
WTHI Temps
WTHI Radar

WTHI Events

 

Illinois Coronavirus Cases

(Widget updates once daily at 7 p.m. CT)

Cases: 1104763

Reported Deaths: 20744
CountyCasesDeaths
Cook4460359268
DuPage710701173
Will59914891
Lake54851924
Kane47289710
Winnebago26813416
Madison25429480
St. Clair23107451
McHenry22290260
Champaign15937106
Peoria15535252
Sangamon14956245
McLean13590173
Tazewell12346253
Rock Island12229308
Kankakee11733187
Kendall1003981
LaSalle9807250
Macon9005182
Vermilion7806117
DeKalb769995
Adams7564129
Williamson6373119
Boone566580
Whiteside5441175
Clinton518886
Coles480486
Ogle471973
Knox4712147
Grundy454154
Effingham436571
Jackson431670
Henry412078
Marion4093113
Macoupin402997
Franklin394671
Livingston381170
Randolph380274
Monroe369571
Stephenson364677
Jefferson3570105
Woodford335470
Morgan332393
Logan317959
Montgomery316654
Lee314576
Christian306279
Bureau305985
Fayette296853
Perry279662
Iroquois263058
Fulton262650
Jersey230961
Lawrence220730
McDonough220051
Saline209254
Douglas205734
Union204032
Shelby202435
Crawford183635
Cass179531
Bond178524
Pike160648
Warren160444
Richland157546
Hancock155635
Wayne154843
Clark153234
Jo Daviess152725
Washington149826
Edgar149452
Carroll147633
Moultrie141828
White141333
Ford140851
Clay134040
Greene128443
Johnson125715
Wabash121915
Mason119841
Piatt119718
De Witt119228
Mercer119130
Cumberland111827
Massac107133
Jasper106115
Menard92310
Hamilton73217
Marshall70915
Schuyler65017
Brown62611
Pulaski6253
Stark50120
Edwards4789
Henderson46816
Calhoun4504
Scott4081
Alexander4067
Gallatin3974
Putnam3592
Hardin3128
Pope2583
Unassigned1110
Out of IL340

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

(Widget updates once daily at 8 p.m. ET)

Cases: 613228

Reported Deaths: 9728
CountyCasesDeaths
Marion846851338
Lake45676687
Allen32980552
Hamilton29649315
St. Joseph27531382
Elkhart24478345
Vanderburgh19610250
Tippecanoe18108141
Johnson15191295
Porter14944169
Hendricks14485250
Madison11044222
Clark10811144
Vigo10795181
Monroe9458113
Delaware9170134
LaPorte9145164
Howard8292144
Kosciusko810183
Warrick680299
Hancock6782104
Bartholomew6640100
Floyd6507110
Wayne6177162
Grant6027116
Dubois558680
Boone556468
Morgan548695
Henry511464
Marshall506984
Cass486964
Dearborn486545
Noble475659
Jackson427747
Shelby420781
Lawrence393780
Clinton375044
Gibson374459
Harrison353045
DeKalb349864
Montgomery347654
Knox336239
Miami324544
Steuben315046
Whitley311126
Wabash305851
Adams302836
Ripley300546
Putnam298950
Huntington294860
Jasper291734
White275143
Daviess271774
Jefferson266238
Decatur249583
Fayette248648
Greene242262
Posey241028
Wells236951
LaGrange230062
Scott226839
Clay224332
Randolph215248
Jennings200636
Sullivan193533
Spencer193022
Washington188023
Fountain184927
Starke176444
Jay168623
Owen167637
Fulton164830
Orange160935
Carroll159715
Rush156318
Perry155929
Vermillion149734
Franklin149333
Tipton133133
Parke13088
Pike118526
Blackford111822
Pulaski97837
Newton92021
Brown88335
Benton87110
Crawford8099
Martin74913
Warren6857
Switzerland6695
Union6297
Ohio4977
Unassigned0376