Man sentenced to five years in prison for abusing a corpse

A Marshalltown man has been sentenced to five years in prison for abusing a corpse.

Max E. Nelson, 56, pleaded guilty Wednesday to abuse of a corpse and accessory after the fact.

He was charged in connection with the slaying of David Warnell, who was killed during a drug deal dispute in Marshalltown last fall.

He was also charged with first-degree theft. That charge was dropped during the plea agreement.

Nelson was sentenced to five years for abuse of a corpse and two years for accessory after the fact. Those sentencing will run concurrently.

In addition to Nelson’s time in prison he was fined $750 and a 35 percent surcharge fee for abusing a corpse. He was also fined $625 and ordered to pay a 35 percent surcharge. These fees were suspended.

Judge James Ellefson ordered those years to run concurrently because Nelson testified during a trial that was held in Cerro Gordo County last December for Jeremy Gartin, a 30-year-old Marshalltown man who shot Warnell in the head.

Gartin was convicted of voluntary manslaughter by a jury and was sentenced to 87 years in prison.

Warnell’s body was mutilated post-mortem – his teeth, fingertips and tattoos were removed and later discovered in garbage bags by police officers. His body was tied up and wrapped in a sleeping bag in the basement of the home Gartin shared with his father at 502 N. Fourth Ave. in Marshalltown.

During Gartin’s trial, in which Nelson testified for the prosecution, Nelson said he did not participate in mutilating Warnell’s body. Nelson admitted he helped move Warnell’s body to the basement and hid evidence because he claimed Gartin had threatened to hurt Nelson’s family.

Nelson is currently in prison after being sentenced in January to less than three years for delivering methamphetamine to an undercover narcotics officer in 2012. His new sentence for abusing the corpse will run consecutive to his drug sentence.

During Gartin’s trial it was revealed that Nelson was a confidential informant for the Mid-Iowa Drug Task Force.

Ben Stansberry, assistant county attorney, said five years is the maximum sentence allowed for someone charged with abusing a corpse.

“I’m disappointed,” Stansberry said. “I think the five years for abusing a corpse is not an efficient punishment but that’s the most the law allows under that crime.”

Warnell’s family was present at the sentencing.