By Fiona Davis
SACRAMENTO, CA – A man—described as suffering from mental health disorders—was found likely to have killed a woman said to be both his social worker and girlfriend, and is now expected to face a jury trial after his preliminary hearing here in Sacramento County Superior Court this Wednesday.
In mid-February of last year, Nicholas Brynelson was arrested in connection to the death of a 52-year-old victim, who was found dead in her Rancho Cordova home shortly after Brynelson called 911 to report that she “got beat up.”
When asked by the dispatcher who had harmed the victim, he repeatedly stated, “I don’t want to talk about it,” before attempting to resuscitate her. Similarly, he promptly asked for legal counsel when police attempted to question him in custody.
In June of this year, after several court settlement conferences held for his case, Brynelson pleaded not guilty to first degree murder.
During Brynelson’s preliminary hearing this week, police witness testimony and evidence presented in court showed a more detailed narrative of the crime in question.
Deputy District Attorney Matt Chisholm questioned several police dispatched to the residence in Rancho Cordova, and they collectively reported seeing Brynelson when they arrived at the scene.
Brynelson, who was 26 years old at the time, was found shirtless, with blood covering his body and face. A blood sample collected from the defendant’s hand would later be found to be a DNA match to the victim.
As he was being handcuffed by officers, he reportedly told them that the victim “still has a pulse.”
However, the victim was pronounced deceased at the scene, when police were unable to find a pulse or resuscitate her. During each officer’s testimony, the victim was described as unclothed and heavily bruised, with blood covering her face and the carpet underneath her.
After conducting the victim’s autopsy, the chief forensic pathologist for the Sacramento County Coroner determined that she likely died due to blunt force injuries and compression injuries to the neck.
When police interviewed Brynelson’s parents, it was confirmed that Brynelson had suffered from mental health disorders, including “diagnosed schizophrenia,” and the victim had served as the defendant’s social worker.
However, additional information made it known that she had been romantically involved with the defendant while he was under her supervision in care, as there were several “love letters” found at the murder scene—addressed to the victim and signed by Brynelson—that expressed “deep and profound love” and “lust” between the reported couple.
During the defense’s line of questioning, private defense attorney Linda Parisi largely focused on Brynelson’s complex and potentially inappropriate relationship with the victim, specifically noting that the victim had hidden the relationship from both the defendant’s parents and her colleagues.
“[Her employers], because Mr. Brynelson was one of her patients, would have in fact terminated her for having this inappropriate relationship with Mr. Brynelson,” she argued.
Parisi also highlighted the defendant’s problems with mental health shortly before the murder.
She noted that Brynelson had “just been” released from Crestwood Behavioral Health facility in Sacramento, and had previously received treatment from Sacramento County Mental Health Services.
When questioning Deputy Cathy Crowley of the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Office, who conducted some investigative work in the case, Parisi appeared to challenge the deputy’s conduct when Crowley stated that she had not notified the jail when she learned of Brynelson’s recent medical treatment.
“When you were talking with Mr. Brynelson parents, didn’t you in fact acknowledge that Mr. Brynelson appeared to have some mental health issues that you observed?” the defense attorney asked pointedly.
In response to the testimony and arguments presented, Judge James E. McFetridge ruled there was sufficient evidence to find the defendant guilty of murder, and set for the matter for trial.