Nelson sentenced to life without parole for murders of Diemel brothers

Nick and Justin Diemel disappeared after going to confront Nelson, who owed them hundreds of thousands of dollars for their livestock business
Published: Sep. 28, 2022 at 6:59 AM CDT|Updated: Sep. 30, 2022 at 6:07 PM CDT
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ST. LOUIS, Mo. (WBAY) - A Missouri man who pleaded guilty to the murders of two brothers from Shawano County will spend the rest of his life in prison.

Court records show Garland Nelson entered guilty pleas Friday to two counts of Murder in the First Degree for the 2019 killings of Nick and Justin Diemel of Diemel’s Livestock. All other counts against him were dismissed as part of a plea agreement.

The plea hearing was held in Cass County, Mo. By pleading guilty, Nelson avoided a jury trial and the possibility of the death penalty.

Nelson waived his right to a sentencing assessment and the court announced the sentence Friday. For each count, Nelson received a sentence of life in prison without parole. That means he will spend the rest of his life behind bars.

Nick Diemel’s wife, Lisa, shared her impact statement she presented to the court. She describes the last text she received from her husband on July 20, prior to the day he would be killed. It was a last “good night and I love you.”

“Nick and Justin were living their dream operating Diemel’s Livestock with their brother Brandon,” Lisa write.

She talks about the love she had for her late husband, Nick, and how their children’s lives have been impacted by the loss of their father.

“I spent over half my life loving you and never would have imagined raising our four children on my own without you. We had big plans for our family’s future and it has been unimaginably hard coming to terms that I will forever navigate this life without you.”

Lisa Diemel continues, “What has been stolen by the monster in this room is unimaginable and forever irreplaceable. No punishment will ever be enough.”

Prosecutors say Nelson admitted to the crimes.

“In the hearing, Nelson admitted shooting the Diemels, burning their bodies then disposing of the remains. Upon those pleas, Circuit Judge Michael Wagner sentenced Nelson to two terms of Life Imprisonment without the possibility of Parole, with those sentences to run consecutively, that is, one after the other. On the completion of the sentencing, the remaining charges against Nelson of Armed Criminal Action, Tampering with a Motor Vehicle, Abandonment of a Corpse, all associated with homicides were dismissed, along with a separate case of Stealing a Motor Vehicle,” said Caldwell County Prosecuting Attorney Brady Kopek.

“We are glad this matter has now been resolved. We are now assured that the person responsible for this heinous crime will never be out of prison,” Kopek said.

“The matter has been pending for over three years, and it is now finally over. I am hopeful that the Diemel family will now be able to return to their lives without this hanging over them. I know that no sentence will bring Nick and Justin back to them, but they can sleep knowing that Nelson will be behind bars for the rest of his life,” said Special Assistant Prosecutor Stephen Sokoloff.

Nick Diemel (left) and Justin Diemel (right). Photos: Lisa Diemel (WBAY)
Nick Diemel (left) and Justin Diemel (right). Photos: Lisa Diemel (WBAY)(KY3)

Nelson is also facing federal mail fraud and gun charges linked to the case. He also plans to plead guilty to those charges; federal court records show Nelson has a change of plea hearing scheduled in federal court for Oct. 4. Nelson was scheduled to stand trial on Oct. 3 in the federal case, but the trial was canceled when the plea hearing was scheduled.

The federal prosecutor says Nelson agreed to care for livestock from Diemel’s Livestock out of Bonduel. Nick and Justin Diemel were principals in the business that traded and invested in cattle and livestock. Nelson agreed to feed and pasture the cattle and sell them on the sprawling farm owned by his mother. Nelson agreed to send the proceeds to Diemel’s Livestock.

Between November 2018 and April 2019, the Diemels delivered loads of cattle to Nelson. Nelson then sold, traded and/or killed the cattle without sending payment to the Diemel brothers, according to the federal indictment.

Prosecutors claim Nelson “continued to fraudulently bill the Diemels for feed and yardage for cattle that had been sold, traded, or had died.”

“Nelson, the indictment says, did not properly care for cattle due to incompetence, neglect, or maltreatment. Cattle entrusted to Nelson had high death rates dues to underfeeding, neglect, and/or maltreatment. Nelson fed cattle inadequately and poorly,” reads a statement from the prosecutor’s office. “For example, he dropped hay bales in a pasture for calves but did not remove the plastic covering so that calves ate the plastic and died. In another example, in December 2018, Nelson was entrusted with feeding and caring for 131 calves he co-owned with a Kansas farmer. On May 23, 2019, Nelson dropped off 35 calves at the co-owner’s farm in Kansas, apparently all that survived of the 131. Of the surviving 35 calves, many were emaciated and had ringworm. Some calves had their ears torn as though identifying ear tags had been removed.”

Nick Diemel continued to press Nelson for payment and sent no more cattle to them. The indictment states Nelson sent the Diemels a $215,936 bad check. His account had a balance of 21 cents at the time. Prosecutors say the check had been intentionally torn so it could not be cashed.

On July 21, 2019, the Diemel brothers traveled to Nelson’s farm in Missouri to collect on the debt. They were never seen again.

“Based on the investigation, it is believed Nick and Justin Diemel never left the property after they arrived and were intentionally killed. It is believed Garland Joseph Nelson acted alone or in concert with others in committing the act of murder against both Nick and Justin Diemel,” reads an affidavit filed against Nelson.

The affidavit says at 11:45 a.m. that day, Nelson drove the Diemel brothers’ rental vehicle from his Braymer farm to a park-and-ride in Holt, Missouri. Nelson stated that he left the keys in the ignition and removed the Diemel brothers’ cell phones and tossed them along the roadway. He arranged for someone to pick him up and take him back to the farm.

The affidavit states remains were found in a 55-gallon barrel in a pole barn on the Nelson farm. The affidavit states Nelson admitted to burning the remains, crushing the burn barrels, and cleaning up blood in a barn.

A blood stain on Nelson’s clothing was a DNA match for Nick Diemel, according to the affidavit.

Remains were also found on a trailer on a ranch in Nebraska. A rancher had recently purchased the trailer from Missouri.

A neighbor described hearing the sound of multiple gunshots coming from the direction of the Nelson farm at about 11:15-to-11:30 on the morning of July 21. That’s the time Nelson admitted that the Diemels were on the property prior to Nelson driving their rental vehicle to Holt.

A fired 30-30 caliber cartridge was found in Nelson’s clothing, and 30-30 caliber ammunition was found in Nelson’s vehicle. Nelson was in possession of a 30-30 caliber rifle.

The Diemel family filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Nelson. A judge approved a $2 million settlement.

Nelson was being held in federal custody prior to Friday’s plea hearing. The state and the federal government had agreed Nelson would go to trial on the federal charges before the state charges. On Tuesday, the United States Attorney’s Office filed a motion for Nelson to be released from federal custody upon word that Nelson planned to plead guilty to the state charges. A federal judge signed off on that request and ordered Nelson to be released from federal custody.

By pleading guilty, Garland Nelson avoided a trial and possible death penalty