I am a Killer season 1, episode 9 recap: Living with the Consequences


Episode 9 of Netflix series I am a Killer looks at prisoner Josh Nelson. Did he kill due to his rough childhood or was it direct retaliation?

As I am a Killer introduces Josh Nelson, he says he’s sorry for what happened, insisting that what he did is not who he is. So, what did he do?

Nelson and Keith Brennan murdered Tommy Owens, ostensibly to steal his car, though there’s likely more to the story. Convicted in 1996, Josh Nelson spent over half his life on death row.

Like many profiled on I am a Killer, Nelson didn’t have the easiest childhood. His father was an alcoholic. His mother and father’s arguments filled their trailer home with noise.

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Nelson remembers running to his room as his father would beat her, fearing he would be next, unable to defend her or himself.  They divorced when Josh was 7, but some damage was already done. When Josh moved to Cape Coral, Florida, he got into drugs and stealing, then was sent to rehab.

He met Keith Brennan while in rehab. In addition to attending the same high school, they began dating sisters. When they started hanging out with Tommy, they likely didn’t know what would happen.

Killing Tommy

Josh insists that, when he and Keith decided to kill Tommy, it was not meticulously planned. They were driving around with Tommy, out to get money in Cape Coral. At one point, Tommy had stopped the car. In order to get Tommy out of the car, one of them cut the car’s bumper with a box cutter.

That’s when they attacked Tommy. Tommy pleaded for mercy after being hit with his own baseball bat by Josh, who says he beat him with the bat out of anger. Keith then slit his throat and they hid him in the woods. After the murder, they went back to their girlfriends.

Tina, Linda, and Chris

Tina was Keith’s girlfriend at the time. Keith flat out told them they killed Tommy, then they drove 1,200 miles to New Jersey in Tommy’s car. Not long after, Tina and her sister alerted the police of the murder, despite not knowing the full circumstances of what happened. Keith was 16, so his sentence was commuted to life in prison, but Josh is on death row.

According to Linda Owens, Tommy’s mother, Tommy was a happy, energetic person. He had no enemies, didn’t drink or smoke, and you “couldn’t find a better person.” She adds that he wanted to be a cop, and also wanted a Lamborghini.

At the time of his disappearance, she thought he was talked into doing drugs and was just forgetting to call home (she was worried about him being influenced into drug usage). Linda says they could have just taken the car and left.

I am a Killer also gives voice to Chris Owens, Tommy’s brother. Chris says Tommy didn’t get to live his life and expresses anger at his brother’s killers. He says they will not want to meet him if they get out.  He also says his and Tommy’s dad wanted to eat popcorn in the front row of Josh’s execution (though he never got the chance)

More on Josh’s abusive childhood

I am a Killer examines Josh’s mother’s pattern of finding abusive relationships, suggesting she was likely abusive herself. Explaining the situation is Jerry Stewart, who had married Josh’s mom Peggy at one point. Stewart divorced her at 21, as he believed she was holding a pillow over his daughter Heather’s face, among other things. He successfully got custody of Heather.

Josh’s half-sister Heather Simmons says Peggy was not nurturing and lacked “the mothering ability.” Also, of course, Josh’s dad was physically and verbally abusive to Josh. She says Josh Nelson never had a chance in that environment.

If that isn’t enough, she says his stepfather Greg sexually abused him, which Josh confirms as true. Josh even says he confronted her mom about the sexual abuse, and she told Greg to stop doing it or she’d kill him. Heather laments that no adult stepped in to really save him. In fact, on the day that he killed Tommy, his mom had kicked him out, leaving him homeless.

A possible motivation for murder?

Though conventional wisdom is against murder, there are motivating factors at work. According to Keith’s girlfriend Tina, Josh may have had additional reasons to kill. Before the murder, Tina was planning to walk to a payphone.

However, she says Tommy offered her his car phone. He convinced her to head to the woods for better reception, where she says he sexually assaulted her. Tina’s sister told Josh everything that happened.

Tommy denied it first but later admitted it, according to Tina. She believes telling them about it was “the straw that broke the camel’s back.” Though she was initially glad that Tommy was gone, she felt guilty afterward, and this was partly why they reported the murder.

I am a Killer reminds us that Tina’s allegations never were proven, and Tommy’s mom says, even if they were true, she still wouldn’t forgive them for what they did.

No way to make amends

In his 2nd interview, Josh says he doesn’t know how to make amends. He also denies a claim by Tommy’s mom that he smirked at Tommy’s family during the trial.

Though he can’t explain the murder, he agrees the assault allegation against Tommy was a factor, as it “made him seem less innocent.” Regarding his fate, he says that sometimes he thinks he deserves to die, but other times he doesn’t deserve it.

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He asks us, “Am I the worst of the worst?” he wants people to see him as more than a murderer, insisting, ” I’m not an animal that needs to be put down.” In fact, had his life been different, this murder surely wouldn’t have occurred. It seems like an obvious statement, but nevertheless true.

That’s it for this I am a Killer recap! What are your thoughts? Let us know in the comments!