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Adult trial ordered for teen who said he was bullied into armed robbery of North Little Rock pizza shop

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Photographs by Pulaski County sheriff's office

Anthony Nelson

A North Little Rock 17-year-old who said he was bullied into participating in a February armed robbery by his 19-year-old co-defendant was ordered Thursday to stand trial as an adult.

Anthony Jerome Nelson Jr. is charged as an adult with aggravated robbery and felony theft over the holdup at the Little Caesars pizza shop on East Broadway in North Little Rock.

Nelson and co-defendant Johnathan Turner, 19, of North Little Rock were arrested almost immediately after the robbery and have been jailed since.

Circuit Judge Barry Sims denied Nelson's motion to transfer his case to juvenile court after a hearing Thursday.

In his ruling, the judge said the seriousness of the charges, the aggressiveness of the robbery and the protection of society required that Nelson be prosecuted as an adult.

The judge also cited Nelson's failure to comply with the conditions of a juvenile-court conviction as grounds to hold him in circuit court. Sims said he did not think the juvenile-justice system could rehabilitate Nelson before the teen turns 21, the age when the juvenile courts lose jurisdiction.

Nelson's attorney, Julia Jackson, said the teen's most recent mental-health assessment, conducted in January 2016, shows that he had been diagnosed with borderline intellectual functioning, conduct disorder and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder.

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Nelson didn't testify, but deputy prosecutor Kelly Ward played his recorded police interview the night of his arrest.

Nelson told detectives that he had accepted an invitation by Turner and two other men, one of whom worked at the Little Caesars, to go riding around and smoking with them the day of the holdup.

But during the ride, he said, Turner jabbed him with a gun and demanded he take part in the holdup. Nelson identified himself for police on the restaurant security video as the robber who emptied the restaurant's two cash registers.

Investigators say Turner is the only one who can be seen pointing a gun during the robbery.

Police arrived almost immediately after the holdup, and Nelson told detectives that he deliberately ran to the officers to get away from Turner and the others so he could tell authorities what happened.

Nelson has juvenile misdemeanor convictions for obstructing government operations, disorderly conduct and theft by receiving stemming from charges filed against him in August 2014, when he was 14, according to testimony.

He was expelled from the C-Step boot-camp rehabilitative program for disrespectful behavior and refusing to follow program rules in June 2015. Nelson also failed to complete his court-ordered therapy programs and attended school only sporadically, the judge was told.

He has pending charges of breaking or entering and theft in juvenile court that were filed about two weeks before the robbery.

AlJay Spencer, youth minister at Eighth Street Baptist Church, testified that he's known Nelson since the teen was 14 and that he saw a lot of promise in the boy.

Spencer said he'd met Nelson during a church outreach program at the neighboring "poverty-ridden, drug-infested" Shorter Gardens housing project, where Nelson and his mother lived.

Spencer said he'd mentored the teen, gotten Nelson to attend church regularly and attend its youth programs. But he also said he'd let Nelson down by failing to keep in touch with the teen when Nelson began to drift away from the church last fall.

The teen's mother, Ina Rochelle Nelson, told the judge that she's raising her son alone.

Her son has long been troubled by the absence of a relationship with his father, she said. The teen has seen the man on Facebook celebrating his other children, but the man has never been a real part of his life or paid child support, even when she struggled to make ends meet, the mother said.

She said her son was diagnosed with anger problems and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder in childhood. Medication helped him stay calm and focused, but when Medicaid stopped paying for it when Anthony Nelson was 13, she couldn't afford to pay for the prescription herself, she testified.

Ina Nelson said her son's behavior problems appeared to manifest when she was diagnosed with HIV while he was in the boot-camp program. She said he was very upset by the discovery.

Court records show that Nelson, 46, was arrested on a charge of knowingly exposing another person to HIV last September. The charge is a Class A felony that carries up to a 30 years in prison. She is currently wanted on a failure-to-appear warrant issued in March by Circuit Judge Herb Wright after she failed to show up for a pretrial hearing.

Court records show Ina Nelson spent about four months in jail after her arrest before being released by the judge on her own recognizance in December.

Metro on 05/19/2017

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