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Press: Sheriff continues probe of professor's death

Sunday, July 25, 2004
Oxford Eagle

Staff Writer

Following last week's surprise release of a primary suspect in the murder of Ole Miss instructor Kristi Waterson, Yoknapatawpha County Sheriff's Department officials deny the investigation is at a dead end, saying new leads have presented themselves.

Sheriff's Department Public Information Officer Elizabeth Jones confirmed that detectives are embarking on a new round of questioning but refused to specify further details, saying that doing so would potentially endanger the on-going investigation.

"Suffice to say we continue to pursue justice as vigorously as possible," Jones said.

But Waterson's parents, Michael and Virginia Waterson of Biloxi, said the recent release from custody of Nathaniel "Hunter" Nelson, a 21-year-old junior at the university, proves the Sheriff's Department has bungled the case.

"Our daughter died a brutal, horrible death, and now this is another shock," said father Michael Waterson. "We want closure, but all we're getting is false information."

Nelson, Waterson's former student, was arrested June 29 in connection with the murder. Rumors swirled that Nelson had been romantically involved with Waterson, who allegedly had a history of dating students.

But Nelson was released abruptly on July 17, with Sheriff's Department officials saying only that new evidence cleared him of suspicion. Since Nelson's release Jones has said newly-obtained witness statements were the deciding factor in Nelson's release.

Those statements placed Nelson elsewhere during a previously uncorroborated segment of his time on the evening of May 22, when Waterson was murdered in her apartment at The Turn. The story was later substantiated by case detectives, Jones said.

On the day of his release, Nelson told reporters, "I told you all along I didn't kill Kristi and this is the proof I'm telling the truth."

Meanwhile, Nelson's attorney, Frank Sheppard of Johnson, Webber, and Sheppard in Natchez, expressed outrage over his client's treatment by the Sheriff's Department.

"It's a complete and total sham," he said of the investigation. "The police rushed to make an arrest and ruined the life of an upstanding young man with a bright future." Sheppard confirmed that Nelson's family is considering seeking damages for the "grief and hardship" they endured as a result of Nelson's arrest and imprisonment.

But Yoknapatawpha County District Attorney Jake Hood dismissed Sheppard's accusations as "a bunch of baloney," saying the investigation so far has been legitimate and vowing to fight any lawsuit in court.

Jones said she couldn't say when a new suspect might be arrested in connection with the case.

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