David Nelson (MT Dept of Correction photo )

MISSOULA – The man whose DNA is now in question in the murder of a Helena-area woman 23-years ago is someone who’s made headlines before, most recently for the brutal robbery and murder of a mother and son in Deer Lodge.

It was a theft that netted him thousands of dollars in silver, but also a trip back to prison.

Most of us got our first look at David Wayne Nelson two years ago this winter as he returned to a Ravalli County courtroom, after he’d been implicated in the disappearance of a well-known mother and son in what turned into a Powell County murder case.

Story continues below

Nelson, who we believe comes from Dillon, first had a brush with the law for a burglary in Beaverhead County in 1981, which sent him to prison for three-years.

The next major incident on his record was just short of 20-years ago in Hamilton. Prosecutors said Nelson and his nephew tied a woman’s wrists with bailing wire, and then held a gun to her husband’s head demanding money.

He’d be convicted of robbery, assault and kidnapping, although his first 20-year sentence was later reduced on appeal by the Montana Supreme Court, because no one had actually been hurt.

It was after he released on parole for that crime in 2015 when David Wayne Nelson became a certain killer. Beverly Giannonatti, 79, and her son Greg vanished from their Deer Lodge homes in October leaving law enforcement, friends and family to search frantically for the pair. Their bodies were found at a dump site outside town in late November.

Powell County authorities said Nelson had been working for the pair as a handyman when he hatched the scheme to beat Greg Giannonatti to death with a hammer and then strangling his mother with electrical wire, stealing 17-bars of silver that he tried to pawn in Missoula — the step that led to his arrest.

Nelson’s parole for the 1998 assault was revoked in Ravalli County, sending him back to prison. In September of 2016, he pleaded guilty to killing the Giannonattis and last year was sentenced to spend the rest of his life in prison.

Reporting by Dennis Bragg for MTN News