By Mike Lyons
"Sit back. Buckle-up. You're going to see grisly images and testimony, but I implore you -- do not close your minds.''
Defense counsel Steve Haney braced the six-woman, six-man Will County jury Monday for the shocks he knew the coming minutes would bring, a horrific, blow-by-blow retelling of the last desperate minutes of a rural Custer Park family, bludgeoned, stabbed and burned during the early morning hours of May 31, 2002.
The story would come from a sobbing image on a police confession video containing the image of Haney's client, 24-year-old Brian Nelson of Momence.
Nelson went on trial Monday for the murders of Wilmington businessman Harold Tennant, his girlfriend Jean Bookwalter, Tennant's daughter Sara and son Eric.
Assistant Attorney General Steve Plazibat, lead prosecutor in a battery of state lawyers assigned to the case when one of Nelson's initial defense counsel went to work for State's Attorney Jim Glasgow, warned the jury that the case came down to "jealousy, obsession and rage.''
Jealousy because Sara Tennant, Nelson's onetime girlfriend and the mother of his baby daughter had given him his walking papers and found a new boyfriend while attending classes at Joliet Junior College.
Obsession because Nelson was unable to give her up, making scores of calls to her and even driving to Buckley to try to talk to her at her place of employment in an insurance agency her father owned.
And rage, when on the early morning hours of May 31, she rejected him again after he'd sneaked into the Tenants' rural home in a bid to patch-up their failed relationship.
Nelson, his jailhouse pallor easily evident after years in the Will County lockup, fidgeted with a white Bic pen with his right hand while resting his chin in his left.
The sounds of his sobbing rendition of the murder night filled Judge Gerald Kinney's cramped fourth floor courtroom, as jurors sat transfixed by the confession tape tale.
On the tape sheriff's detective Mike Guilfoyle coaxed the expanding story of rampage with a series of "what next'' questions.
Nelson said he and Sara talked for an hour before she told him to leave. When he left, he went no further than the garage where he tarried trying to figure what to do.
Picking up a crowbar he headed back to Sara's bed in a basement bedroom where he told her he loved her then delivered several crushing blows to her head.
But the tape reveals his fear -- the presence of others in the home could lead to his identification as the killer.
Mounting the stairway to the second floor he encountered Harold Tennant coming out of a bedroom. Several blows to the head killed Tennant.
Just then Jean Bookwalter walked out of the same bedroom and was immediately bludgeoned to death.
Next Nelson entered Eric's room and found the teen sleeping in a recliner. Several more blows with the crowbar and Eric lay still.
The tape reveals that Nelson took off his bloody clothing, piling it on Sara's bed and setting the bed alight.
He'd dressed in clothing of his that had been kept at the Tennant home, he said.
Lighting papers on a downstairs stove, he set fire to a pile of papers placed between Bookwalter and Harold Tennant and to the chair in which Eric lay dead.
But unknown to Nelson was that Eric's teen friend, Matt Gravetti, who had been helping him plant corn that day, was sleeping in a guest room.
Gravetti, awakened by the sound of smoke detectors, crawled below the lowering smoke ceiling and escaped through a window, Plazibat told the jury. He re-entered the home just long enough to grab a cell phone and summon 911.
Besides Gravetti there was one other survivor of that horrific spring evening in rural Custer Park.
On the tape Nelson speaks of saving his baby daughter. "I threw a blanket around her to take her outside and put her in the car so she wouldn't get burnt."
Plazibat noted that Nelson left one more piece of evidence at the scene -- semen recovered from Sara.
Guilfoyle said Nelson called him the day following the taping of his statement and asked to see him at the jail. According to the detective, Nelson wanted to tell him he'd had sex with Sara prior to killing her.
Nelson's taped statement notes that he drove home to Momence after the incident. He was questioned and arrested within hours.
Prosecution witnesses continue today. Nelson could face the death penalty if convicted.