Man sentenced in 30-year-old murder case

IOSCO COUNTY

She disappeared in Iosco County.

More than 30 years later, someone has been sent to prison in the case.

Police say 58-year-old Jimmie Nelson is the man who killed Cherita Thomas, but Nelson's family says an innocent man is being sent to prison.

"There were times when I didn't think it would come to this," Iosco County Sheriff Allan MacGregor said.

This is the sentencing of a man to prison for 25-50 years.

Jimmie Nelson was convicted last month by a jury for killing 21-year-old Cherita Thomas in 1980. Investigators say he was the last person to see Thomas alive along a stretch of road in AuSable Township when he picked her up after she had car trouble.

"It's a tough case. There's no body. It's all circumstantial evidence. There are no witnesses, so we had to make sure we checked out every avenue just to make sure. But we have the right man, and justice was done," MacGregor said.

Nelson's family doesn't see it that way. "Shame on Iosco County officials and this court system," said an unidentified family member.

They claim Nelson is innocent and the real killer will never be brought to justice.

A judge dismissed murder charges against Nelson in 2005, but the Michigan Court of Appeals overturned that ruling.

That's just for starters when it comes to twists and turns in this case.

"We had another federal fugitive in the area at the time that really clouded the issue up a lot for us for several years. We had Sandra Anderson that played into this case," MacGregor said.

Sandra Anderson was the cadaver dog handler who was convicted of planting evidence during a search for the remains of Thomas in 2003. MacGregor was there when that happened and spent nearly 20 years investigating the Thomas case. "It does become personal with you. You become part of the family, you become part of the suspect's family," he said.

Nelson's attorney says there will be an appeal.

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