After hearing emotionally charged testimony from two very different points of view, Anoka County District Court Judge Thomas Fitzpatrick Thursday afternoon, June 15, sentenced Chad Nelson, 45, to 12.5 years for killing Rayontra McCall.
An Anoka County District Court jury on April 25 had convicted Nelson of unintentional second-degree murder while committing a felony.
The sentence is for 150 months, but he had remained behind bars since he was charged and was given credit for 715 days served. And the standard Minnesota sentence only includes two-thirds of the time in prison with the remaining time on supervised release.
According to Minnesota Department of Corrections records, Nelson’s scheduled release date from prison is Oct. 31, 2023. He will be on supervised release until Dec. 30, 2027.
Nearly two years ago Nelson shot McCall outside Willy’s Bar in Coon Rapids during an altercation in the parking lot.
McCall was a father of two. His daughter recently turned 10 and his son is now 4.
His daughter, Avaya, wrote a letter that was read aloud by Amy Reed-Hall, an assistant Anoka County Attorney.
“He may have hurt one person physically, but he hurt many others with their emotions,” she wrote, referring to Nelson.
Avaya’s mother, Amanda Traaseth, said it is hard enough for a young child to lose a parent to cancer but it is especially difficult when a parent is brutally taken from you without having a chance to say goodbye.
McCall was with a group of friends and Nelson was by himself at Willy’s Bar in Coon Rapids during a poker tournament the evening of July 2, 2015. According to the criminal complaint and statements made in court, McCall and Nelson did not know each other.
There was a confrontation inside the bar that eventually ended in the parking lot with McCall being shot.
At his June 15 sentencing hearing, Nelson said he had referred a youth soccer game in Princeton earlier that day and just wanted to get a steak dinner and some Mountain Dew and play in a free poker tournament before heading home to Ramsey.
He told the court the situation first became toxic when Oscar Haynes, who was with McCall, accused Nelson of cheating him out of two poker chips.
At bar close when Nelson was starting to drive away, he stopped. He said three people, including Oscar Haynes and McCall, approached the driver’s side of his vehicle.
Nelson said McCall “cold-cocked” him in the face through his open window, knocking off and breaking his glasses.
Nelson said he could not see and is legally blind without his glasses, so he could not have driven off because he could have hit and killed someone else.
He fired two shots in the direction of a silhouette of a person who looked like he was going to punch him again, with others close by to potentially assault him as well.
He said his 20 years of military training with the Air Force taught him how to defend himself.
“Ray would be alive today if he punched me once and ran,” Nelson said. “Lucky for my life, I was able to fight back.”
Fitzpatrick said one witness testified that he saw McCall punch Nelson and then instantly saw two flashes of light and heard the gunshots.
Before that, Fitzpatrick pointed out that the bar’s surveillance video showed that Nelson had his foot on the brake for 8 to 10 seconds when he was stopped in the parking lot.
“We know the window is down and (Nelson) is fully loaded and ready to fire a gun that’s close at hand or in his hand,” Fitzpatrick said.
Lisa Adams, McCall’s mother, said her son’s life was “cut short by the willful actions of a cruel stranger.”
His stepmother Melissa McCall said the last two years “has been draining physically and emotionally” but said their family has grown closer together. But she said because of what Nelson did, all they have are memories.
Adams said McCall loved to spend time with his family, which included eight siblings. She said her son has lost the chance to see his children grow up, go to college, get married and start a family. He loved watching all Minnesota sports teams and thinks he would have made a great sportswriter or sportscaster.
Adams said throughout the process she did not see any remorse from Nelson and was upset by how long the whole process took as he was pleading self-defense.
“After murdering my son, how can the defendant call himself a human being?” she said.