The 22-year-old who authorities say murdered his father in their Arlington Heights home nearly three years ago is not a killer, but an intended victim, his lawyers say.
Attorneys for Matthew Nellessen outlined their defense Wednesday during opening statements in his trial on charges including first-degree murder in the April 2011 death of his widowed father, George Nellessen.
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"The target police and prosecutors set on Matt has been misplaced," said Cook County Assistant Public Defender Daniel Naranjo.
Naranjo said Nellessen's co-defendant Marlon Green -- whom Naranjo described as a Chicago gang member -- planned to rob and kill both father and son.
Prosecutors told the jury Wednesday that Green will refute that account. Cook County Assistant State's Attorney Maria McCarthy said Green will testify and in exchange charges against him will be reduced.
In "return for his acceptance of responsibility and truthful testimony," he has agreed to plead guilty to armed robbery in exchange for an 18-year prison sentence, McCarthy said.
While prosecutors told the jury Wednesday that Matthew Nellessen contacted his former jailhouse acquaintance Green for help attacking his father, Naranjo gave a different account.
He said Green initiated contact with the intent to do in both Nellessens but kept Matthew alive to gain access to his father's money.
Naranjo said Green drove to the Nellessen home on Wilshire Lane with co-defendants Armon and Azari Braden on April 12, 2011.
Once inside, Green "helped himself" to George Nellessen's laptop and tried to access his financial accounts using George's name and Social Security number but found it more difficult than he anticipated, Naranjo said.
Green forced George Nellessen to divulge his user name and password and sign a check for $100,000 made out to Matthew, Naranjo said. Green realized he "had a ticket to all that money ... Matthew Nellessen. That's why he kept Matt alive," Naranjo said.
Prosecutors say greed motivated Matthew Nellessen, who believed George had not turned over Social Security money Matthew felt he deserved.
"He was convinced his father held back" money, said McCarthy, referring to payments Matthew believed he was entitled to after the 2004 death of his mother and George's wife, Laura Nellessen.
Nellessen, Green and the Braden brothers were charged with murder, armed robbery, home invasion and aggravated kidnapping, which carry a penalty upon conviction of up to 60 years in prison, more if jurors find the crimes to have been brutal, heinous and "indicative of wanton cruelty."
Prosecutors say George Nellessen arrived home from his machinist job at Rexam in Buffalo Grove and found a slip of paper with his name, birth date and Social Security number, information McCarthy said Green had used to try to access George's financial accounts.
When George Nellessen confronted the men in the family room, Green held a BB gun on him while Matthew Nellessen and Armon Braden bound him to a chair with duct tape and cords, McCarthy said. George was forced to transfer funds and write a $100,000 check to his son, McCarthy said.
"But it wasn't finished," she said, telling the jury Matthew Nellessen declared "this is personal" before gagging his father with a dish towel, duct-taping his eyes, striking him with a baseball bat and stabbing him.
McCarty said records and security videos will show Nellessen and Green using George's debit card and trying to cash the check.