Records: Suspect arrested at protest one week before deadly stabbing

Crime

Phillip Lawrence Nelson faces two murder charges

Cassy Leaton, 22, and Nate Hobbs, 39, died after being stabbed on June 16, 2020 in Northeast Portland. (Photos released by PPB)

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — A man accused of stabbing two people to death in Northeast Portland in June was arrested at a protest in downtown Portland just one week prior, KOIN 6 News has learned.

Cassy Leaton, 22, and Najaf “Nate” Hobbs, 39, were stabbed on June 16 near Northeast Davis Street. Police arrested Phillip Lawrence Nelson, 39, two days later. He faces two murder charges and is being held without bail.

Just days before he allegedly killed Leaton and Hobbs, though, Nelson was taken into custody at a protest in downtown Portland. Court records show he was arrested on charges of interfering with a peace officer. Those charges were dismissed the next day.

Before that, Nelson did not appear to have any criminal history in Oregon. Nelson told authorities he had been homeless, living in the Portland area for the two months before the crime, according to court records for the murder arrest.

A booking photo of Phillip Lawrence Nelson, June 19, 2020. (Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office)

The murder may have stemmed from an ongoing dispute between the victims and the suspect. Leaton and Hobbs’ roommate told police that they were originally renting the unit in a fourplex from Nelson, who claimed to be the owner of the building, according to court records. When the three roommates found out Nelson was actually just squatting there, they changed the locks to their unit, angering Nelson, records state.

On the afternoon they were murdered, surveillance video captured Hobbs and Leaton going into the basement of the building, where the water control is located, according to court records. The pair came back upstairs, but then went back just a minute later. Shortly after that, surveillance video captured Leaton running out of the basement, stumbling and shouting for help before falling down. Bystanders rushed to her aid, but she did not survive.

Both Leaton and Hobbs had been stabbed numerous times, according to the medical examiner. A police officer said he found Hobbs’ body on the stairs, with a trail of blood leading to the basement. The officer also allegedly found a long-bladed knife and “significant amount of blood” inside the basement.

Nelson listed the lower left unit of the fourplex as his address the night he was arrested at the protest, police said. The surveillance video from June 16 allegedly captured him leaving through the back door of that unit after the stabbing, as bystanders were trying to save Leaton. Detectives found blood stains on the inside and outside handles of the door, according to court records.

Detectives said Nelson drove a “distinctive purple bus,” which they found out was at a grocery store on SW Barbur Blvd on June 18. They went to the store and set up surveillance around the bus to see if Nelson would return, but then they learned a female friend of his drove a blue Mini Cooper with a white top, saw a car matching that description pulling into the parking lot and then leaving, according to court documents. Officers stopped the car and allegedly found Nelson in the passenger seat.

Nelson’s next court appearance is scheduled for September 28.

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