A Burlington man was sentenced this week to 50 years in prison for shooting a man at point blank range in February 2017 and dumping his body in a park in Lee County.
Joseph Mayorga Jr., 35, pleaded guilty to 2nd Degree Murder in the death of James Nelson, 47, of Fairfield as part of a plea agreement with the Lee County Attorney’s Office. He was initially charged with 1st Degree Murder, which carries a maximum penalty of life in prison.
District Court Judge Mark Kruse accepted Mayorga’s plea and complied with Mayorga’s request for immediate sentencing during the roughly hour-long hearing Tuesday morning in the 2nd floor courtroom of the North Lee County Courthouse in Fort Madison.
There were several times during the hearing when emotions got the best of the roughly 30 people in attendance, primarily by crying out or loudly sobbing. About half were friends and family of Nelson, the other half, friends and family of Mayorga.
During the hearing, Kruse asked Mayorga to explain what happened the night he killed Nelson.
Mayorga said he and Nelson were sitting in Mayorga’s 2007 Chevy Impala. It was parked in the garage at Mayorga’s residence in Burlington. Mayorga told Kruse that Nelson said something about Mayorga’s wife.
“It put me in a rage so I shot him,” said Mayorga. He said he shot Nelson once in the eye with a .38 caliber revolver. “I kinda blacked out at that point,” said Mayorga. “I did not know what was going on.”
Mayorga said he eventually drove Nelson to Indian Path Park near the Lee/Des Moines County line.
“I removed him from my vehicle and drove away,” said Mayorga.
Prior to sentencing, Asst. Lee County Attorney Bruce McDonald called Nelson’s brother, David Summers, to the witness stand. Summers spoke on behalf of Nelson’s family.
“Joe, you have taken from us a great friend, a great brother, and a great uncle. We wish so much we could be in your family’s position that we could go visit him,” said Summers. “We love him and we are going to miss him so much… you have hurt us.”
Mayorga was then allowed to address the court. He turned, wearing a red Lee County Jail jumpsuit, still shackled at the hands and feet, and looked at the corner of the courtroom where Nelson’s family and friends sat.
“Nothing can take back my actions,” said Mayorga. “We’ve all suffered, my family as well as yours. I am sorry for my actions and for that, I will pay for the rest of my life. I apologize.”
Mayorga will be eligible for parole in 35 years. Kruse reminded Mayorga that his action harmed himself, his family, but most importantly Nelson and his family.
“It’s just a terrible tragedy,” said Kruse.