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State Attorney Melissa Nelson to remain in courtroom for third term

'Being able to bring victims justice in court — it is very vindicating'

Posted 7/4/24

JACKSONVILLE — As the unopposed candidate for State Attorney of the Fourth Judicial Circuit, Melissa Nelson will serve another four years as the top prosecutor for Clay, Duval and Nassau …

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State Attorney Melissa Nelson to remain in courtroom for third term

'Being able to bring victims justice in court — it is very vindicating'


Posted

JACKSONVILLE — As the unopposed candidate for State Attorney of the Fourth Judicial Circuit, Melissa Nelson will serve another four years as the top prosecutor for Clay, Duval and Nassau counties. She was unopposed in 2020 as well. 

The Office of the State Attorney is located at the Ed Austin Building, which was once a federal courthouse in Jacksonville until 2003. It is connected to the Duval County Courthouse by an elevated walkway above Pearl Street. 

One of Nelson's favorite rooms in the building is the Law Library on the fifth floor. It is both clad in dark academia — wall-to-wall bookshelves and leather couches—and natural lighting, with sunlight filtering in through the windows facing the EverBank building. These dual contrasts can also be attributed to Nelson as well. She possesses a clear vision and a dense, often dark, background in practicing law. 

Nelson said she is ready for another four years. 

“I am grateful. It is a testament to the team that I work with. We’ve been really stable. There’s a lot of movement in this office, just by nature, but there’s been a lot of stability and that has been in the benefit of the public. People work together," Nelson said. 

"We are the voice for victims and for people who have been hurt, destroyed by criminal actions from other people. Being able to bring victims justice in court — it is very vindicating," she said. 

Nelson said this sense of justice propelled her into her career. She was colleagues with Rep. Sam Garrison when they served as assistant attorneys in Jacksonville in the 2000s. 

In the legal library, Nelson held up a glass fixture of an article from the Florida Times-Union. It was one of the office's courtroom victories: the Michael Dunn case, prosecuted  under former State Attorney Angela Corey.

Nelson plans to adorn the marbled walkways through the building with news articles and media memorabilia as visual monuments. 

"The bread and butter of our work is prosecution. But it is so much more broad than just being in a courtroom and handling a case to resolution. We do a lot here. Our victim's services are very important. We have done creative things over the first two terms. And we have a few projects in the pipeline, this being just one of them,” she said, glancing at the article.

"This is about honoring victims and showcasing, in a creative way, a platform that reminds the people who work here why we come to this job every single day," she said.

One planned centerpiece is an article written by Clay Today about the gripping Michael Renard Jackson case. Nelson said that was one of the most compelling cases in Clay County during her tenure in the Fourth Circuit.

"I sat through the retrial earlier this year. It really affected and shook the county when it happened," Nelson said.

Jackson was sentenced to death in 2007 for murdering a veterinary technician. In 2012, the Florida Supreme Court called for a retrial. Jackson was tried again in 2023 and was sentenced to life in prison. 

"We were pleased the jury convicted Jackson and are relieved he will never be released from prison," Nelson said. 

One upcoming case of interest on the state attorney's radar is the Corey L. Binderim trial, which begins on Sept. 30.

Pam Hazel is the Clay County Director and the lead prosecutor for the Binderim case. She went with Nelson and FBI crime analysts to a landfill in Georgia, where it was believed Susan Elizabeth Mauldin's body would be found. Nelson described the fruitless search through the landfill and how "everything was just shades of gray." The overcast sky and the despairing mood left everything in a gloomy gray glaucoma as they searched desperately for the body.  

Nelson said the team found a white skull fragment the night before the search was about to be called off. From there, they found what they believe is the victim's body. 

Her job as a state attorney confronts her with the worst of human nature. Despite all the past horrors and the horrors still to come, she maintains an optimistic outlook on life. Providence is one of her central tenets. 

During the final week to qualify for the 2016 election, Nelson grappled with whether or not to run for state attorney. She wondered if there was a path to win the election. Her committed decision to enter politics was "sort of" a spur-of-the-moment decision after months of ruminating. 

She talked to Gary Chartrand, a mentor figure and campaign contributor, a few days before the qualifying deadline. Chartrand shared a quote by William Hutchison Murray

"Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness. Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth, the ignorance which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too."

Those words replayed in Nelson's mind as she was driving home. She made up her mind as she pulled into her driveway.

"All of a sudden, it became clear to me. The meaning of the quote and what he was trying to tell me. When I made the decision, incredible things happened," Nelson said. 

After winning the 2016 election, Nelson has been unchallenged ever since. 

Editor's note — A quote was omitted to respect a victim's family, several quotes were clarified and a correction was made regarding the Law Library.