Police: Murder suspect said victim ‘disrespected’ him

WESTERLY, R.I. (WPRI) — A Westerly man accused of killing a Connecticut man Saturday admitted to officers that he stabbed the victim, according to police.

A judge ordered 50-year-old Nelson Dearce held without bail following his arraignment on a first-degree murder charge Monday.

Lt. Robert Warner said in court that officers found Dearce holding a knife and covered in blood outside his Bowling Lane home late Saturday night. According to police, Dearce told officers the victim “was disrespecting me in my own house.” Police said Dearce admitted to officers to grabbing a knife and stabbing the victim, saying that he “wanted to kill him.” He also told police he was a Christian, and hoped the man was ok.

Police said they found 50-year-old Jeremy Lehmann from Niantic, Connecticut inside Dearce’s apartment with multiple stab wounds. Lehmann was later pronounced dead at Westerly Hospital.

Westerly Police Chief Richard Silva said Lehmann was visiting the apartment at the time, and Dearce came home from work to find him there. Dearce’s ex-girlfriend, whom he lives with, was home at the time along with their 4 children. The children were sleeping at the time.

”The defendant was upset that the victim was inside his house,” Chief Silva said. “The defendant arrived home, and almost immediately attacked the victim.”

Silva said Dearce used a “foldable knife” in the alleged murder, and stabbed Lehmann “multiple times.” Police allege the crime was premeditated.

Susan Sawtelle, a neighbor on Bowling Lane, said she went outside and witnessed the aftermath.

”He was in handcuffs and I walked up to him, and he was very calm like nothing happened,” Sawtelle said. “He told me, ‘Mami, things happen.’”

After the arraignment Monday morning, Dearce’s family members told Eyewitness News that he is a “good man” and a church-goer.

Sawtelle, who also described herself as a Christian, said that just doesn’t compute.

”No, it doesn’t. I mean we’re all about love,” she said. “Everybody can get angry, and do things out of anger. But…it takes a lot to take a life.”

Dearce has a short criminal record in Rhode Island from the early 2000s. In 2001, he pleaded no contest to charges that he stole money from a Middletown Wendy’s, where he was employed at the time. According to the police report, he and other coworkers stole the money and then filed a false police report, claiming two armed robbers had come in to the restaurant.

In 2003, Dearce was charged with domestic simple assault by Newport Police, according to court records. He pleaded no contest and was sentenced to probation and domestic abuse counseling.

Jeremy Lehmann was a veteran of the Navy, according to a spokesperson, serving from 1986 to 2007. He served as a Chief Petty Officer.