Shavelle Chavez-Nelson spent a total of less than four of the past 14 years outside the walls of Minnesota jails or prisons. In that time, he was accused or convicted of at least seven violent crimes.
He and Anarae Schunk, a smart 20-year-old college student, met at a bus stop in the summer of 2012, during Nelson’s longest stretch as a free man. He told her he was a hedge fund manager, and despite the disapproval of her family and friends, Schunk dated him for a few months. Those who knew her say she thought she could help him.
Court documents and interviews reveal that Nelson, also known as Anthony Lee Nelson, may have been too far entrenched in a violent lifestyle to be reformed by anyone, let alone a young woman from Burnsville whom everyone agreed had a bright future.
The story of what happened when their paths crossed also raises the question of why someone with a propensity toward crime and violence was released from behind bars time and time again.
Nelson is a suspect in Schunk’s death, although charges are not expected to be filed for several weeks. He is charged with second-degree murder in the death of Palagor Obang Jobi, 23, of Savage, and is in the Dakota County jail in lieu of $2 million bail. Jobi was killed the same night Schunk disappeared.
“I think she understood that he had a violent criminal history. But she also believed in the good of humanity and in people’s power to change, and her power to bring that change about,” Schunk’s oldest brother, Tyson, said Thursday, two days after police announced that a body found in a roadside ditch was his sister’s.
Jobi’s and Schunk’s deaths appear to have been the culmination of a crescendo of violent crimes that had Nelson bouncing in and out of custody.
He served nearly eight years for his most recent robbery convictions. State law mandates that incarcerated offenders serve two-thirds of their sentence behind bars, with the remaining third on supervised release. A month after his parole ended, he was charged with armed burglary. He spent most of the past three months in jail and was freed Sept. 19 after posting $25,000 bail.
Three days later, Jobi was dead and Schunk missing.
Nelson’s release infuriated Schunk’s loved ones, who say he shouldn’t ever have been out of prison, much less jail.
Hennepin County District Judge Daniel Moreno, who set Nelson’s bond amount, would not comment on the case.
“There would be an explosion in our jails if judges set bail based on what might happen,” said Mark Osler, a professor of criminal law at the University of St. Thomas School of Law. “Every defendant poses a risk. With 20/20 hindsight, to say this risk was realized, it’s heartbreaking. But that doesn’t make it effective to deny bail to everyone who is a risk.”
A case like this is “a judge’s worst nightmare,” said retired Ramsey County District Judge Kathleen Gearin. “There’s probably not a judge sitting who hasn’t second-guessed themselves when something bad happens.”
‘Frightening and disturbing’
Nelson’s crimes share a common theme. In nearly every one, he pointed a pistol at his victim’s head, and in most cases, he threatened to kill them if they didn’t turn over their valuables.
But he wasn’t your typical thug, court transcripts show.
In 2003, Nelson, just 21, was already a twice-convicted felon facing prison for five counts of first-degree aggravated robbery, one in which he put a gun to the head of a young mother consoling her frightened children. “Tell the kids I’m not going to kill them,” he told her. “I’m only going to kill their parents.”
In that case, he fired his lawyer and represented himself during a weeklong trial, grilling each victim called to testify against him.
“I’m asking you a fact, sir, so is it true that you did not receive or retrieve a silver chain with — was it a horse that you described?” Nelson asked prosecution witness Mark Scott, who said Nelson offered to sell him jewelry, then pointed two handguns at his head.
“You know better,” the witness replied.
“Is that a yes or no, sir?” Nelson sharply responded, according to court transcripts.
Hennepin County District Judge Heidi Schellhas found Nelson guilty and sentenced him to nine years for the robberies.
“You are a frightening and disturbing young man,” she told Nelson, according to a court transcript. “The court has no doubt that you are a bright young man, that you could choose a different path than the path you did choose.”
Trail ended at townhouse
Schunk ended her relationship with Nelson last Thanksgiving, but recently reconnected with him and planned to get back $5,000 she had loaned him while they were dating.
Her best friend, Sarah Chacos, wouldn’t elaborate on the plan. “I will say the way they were going to get it back was very dangerous for her,” Chacos said after Schunk disappeared.
Allegations against Nelson and his current girlfriend, Ashley M. Conrade, 24, who is charged with harboring Nelson until his arrest, say he shot Jobi eight times after a fight in the parking lot of Nina’s Grill in Burnsville early Sept. 22. Schunk was there, and Conrade told police the three of them returned to her Rosemount townhouse. That’s where Schunk’s trail ended. Rosemount police say they believe Schunk was killed there that morning.
For nine days, Schunk’s brothers, Tyson and Owen, and volunteers searched for Schunk, trying to hold onto hope that she was hiding in fear of Nelson or his associates.
Tyson Schunk said police told him that his sister’s jacket, covered in blood and punctured by 18 to 20 holes that indicated stab wounds, had been found in St. Paul at the home of Nelson’s ex-wife. A knife was found on the roof of the ex-wife’s apartment building. Police have said nothing about those details. Then Schunk’s body was found Monday in a grassy ditch about 30 miles from Rosemount.
Her disappearance and death resonated with parents and many others who wondered how a young woman who was a competitive chess player, spoke at her high school graduation and was studying sociology at the University of Minnesota could get entangled with a man like Nelson.
“In cases where people in a relationship seem to, figuratively speaking, come from different planets, it’s likely that the ‘opposites-attract’ syndrome is at play,” said Carol Bruess, a professor of family and relationships at the University of St. Thomas. “Asserting independence as a young adult comes in many forms, including choosing a partner who is drastically different from our own personality.”
Osler said Nelson’s and Schunk’s personalities might not have been all that different. Both were intelligent people who took risks.
“His risks were of the kind that tend to hurt other people,” Osler said. “She took risks to help other people. One of those risks played a role in her death.”