Man on trial for murder pleads self-defense

Staff Writer
I cover the cities of Andover, Blaine and Ramsey. I have worked at ABC Newspapers since August 2007.
Chad Nicholas Nelson
Chad Nicholas Nelson

Chad Nicholas Nelson was defending himself when he shot and killed a man outside a Coon Rapids bar, according to public defense attorney Joann Anton.

Nelson, 45, of Ramsey, is on trial for killing Rayontra McCall, 29. The 14-member jury heard opening arguments from both attorneys the morning of April 18 and the jury trial was scheduled to continue through the week.

Nelson was playing in a poker tournament at Willy’s Bar in Coon Rapids the evening of July 1, 2015. He did well enough to get to the final table, along with Oscar Haynes. Oscar’s son Santonio Haynes and his nephew McCall had been eliminated from the tournament and were watching the final round unfold.

Nelson had been accused of cheating and was confronted after the tournament outside the bar by these three men he did not know.

McCall was one of those men. He was killed that evening after Nelson shot him twice with a Ruger .38-caliber handgun, according to the criminal complaint.

Coon Rapids police responded to Willy’s Bar at 12:41 a.m. July 2, 2015 after receiving reports of that had been shots fired.

Anton and prosecutor Amy Reed-Hall both told the 14-member jury that McCall had punched Nelson in the face while Nelson was sitting in his Jeep Cherokee.

“This is a case about what’s reasonable under these circumstances,” said Anton, who is working with William Robyt in an attempt to have Nelson aquitted of a felony charge of murder in the second degree.

Nelson drove away and called his father to tell him he had been assaulted and shot someone. He went to the VA Hospital in Minneapolis to be treated and was arrested a few hours later, according to the criminal complaint.

Anton and Reed-Hall described how a dispute over a poker game led to McCall being killed and Nelson being on trial.

After winning a big hand, Oscar Haynes became upset because he thought Nelson had not given him all the chips he had bet on that hand. A tournament director was able to keep things from escalating inside the bar. Nelson eventually lost all his chips, but stayed to watch the remainder of the game.

Anton said video surveillance shows that Nelson was “cool as a cucumber” throughout the evening while Oscar Haynes was visibly angry.

After collecting his money for finishing second in the tournament, Anton said that Oscar Haynes “stormed” out of the bar after Nelson with his son and nephew following behind. Anton described Oscar Haynes as a “big fellow” who weighs over 300 pounds and said Nelson had come to the tournament alone and did not know this group of people who were confronting him.

Video surveillance at Willy’s Bar captured what transpired during the tournament and as people were leaving the bar, but not the confrontation that ended with McCall being shot. Witness testimony and the evidence of two .38-caliber shell casings found in the parking lot and the Ruger handgun with two missing rounds found in Nelson’s car are some pieces of evidence that will be presented during the trial.

Reed-Hall, who is prosecuting this case with Kurt Deile, said Nelson stopped his vehicle to talk to the group. She said a witness saw McCall punch Nelson and then heard two gunshots and saw two bright flashes of light in the dark. The fatal bullet struck McCall’s heart.

Anton said Santonio Haynes was trying to calm down his father and apparently was able to persuade him to walk away, but McCall punched Nelson in the face and his glasses fell off. She told the jury to imagine that they were punched in the face and were having trouble seeing. She said Nelson grabbed his gun, pointed it and fired “in the direction the punch had come from.”

“Everything is chaos after that,” she said.

Nelson put his glasses back on and was able to drive away and call his father, according to Anton.

Anton told the jury that their responsibility will be to weigh the credibility of different witnesses and that the state is responsible for proving her client’s guilt “beyond a reasonable doubt.”

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