On October 11, 1993, 18-year-old Julie Heath drove on U.S. Highway 270, between Malvern and Hot Springs, Arkansas, to visit her boyfriend at the hot springs. Nance said that after Heath’s car broke down, he stopped to help Heath and asked her to ride to Malvern. The prosecutor said that Nance then raped and murdered her. Later, someone saw him not wearing shoes, socks or shirts in the convenience store. According to the clerk, there appeared to be fresh dark damp stains on his work clothes. Heath’s body was found by a hunter on October 18, 1993. Her throat was severed.
The photos at the scene showed that she was fully dressed, but the belt buckle was partially unfastened, the zipper of her pants was not fully closed, and the left shoulder of her shirt was torn. This shirt is also inside and out.
The forensic doctor also reported that her socks and panties were inside and out, and her bra was pulled around her neck and shoulders. An expert said that the pubic hair in the Nance pickup is the same as Heath’s pubic hair under the microscope. Nance said he accidentally killed Heath. According to the defense’s testimony, she became hysterical after seeing a utility knife and started kicking him. Reached out to stop her, accidentally stuck the knife in her throat. This version of the event was told by his brothers and sisters during the trial, and Nance told them his version of the event.
Nance was convicted of death penalty felony murder, and attempted rape is a potential felony. During the sentencing stage of the trial, it was revealed that five months before the murder, Nance was sentenced to 20 years in prison for beating two Oklahoma girls in 1982.
The jury found that there was no mitigating circumstance in this case and recommended that the judge sentence Nance to death, which he did on March 31, 1994. His lawyer argued that the execution of Nance was unconstitutional (Atkins v. Virginia) because he was mentally handicapped. A psychologist stated that Nans had an IQ of less than 70, and a psychiatrist testified that he found that Nans had an IQ of 105.
The defense also argued that a DNA test can show that the pubic hair does not come from Heath. On November 17, 2005, the Arkansas Parole Board recommended by a 6 to 1 vote that Governor Mike Huckabee rejects the leniency of Nans. The negative vote came from a member who hoped to continue the execution so as to have more time to determine whether Nans was mentally retarded. Federal Judge James Moody for the Eastern District of Arkansas suspended the execution on November 17. On November 19, the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals cancelled the suspension.