Instead, the report stated that Houston told police that he, James Cox and Shanai Marshall had planned to grab Nelson's money and run when he took out his wallet to buy a bag of fake drugs from them.
But when Nelson tried to jump into the truck's cab to escape, a knife-wielding Houston allegedly grabbed Nelson's shirt, and Cox hit Nelson in the face. Nelson's driving partner, Michael Jordan, then 38, of Dallas, threw the idling rig into gear and fled to summon police.
In the process, the 60,000-pound 1996 Freightliner crushed Nelson's legs when he fell to the ground in the parking lot of the Anna C. Heller School.
Houston, in a taped statement to police on Oct. 22, 1998, said the death had shocked him.
"I didn't think nothing like that was going to happen," he told police.
Under the state's felony-murder statute, prosecutors can argue a murder charge if a person dies during a crime such as robbery.
Cox, 35, of Browns Mills, and Marshall, 21, of Mount Holly, are scheduled to stand trial this summer on similar charges.
Murder carries a sentence of 30 years to life in prison. Robbery carries a 10- to 20-year sentence.
Robert Van Gilst, assistant Burlington County prosecutor, has tried to show that Nelson would be alive if not for Houston's actions.
Houston, who did not take the stand, was attentive and quiet during the three days of testimony, occasionally turning around to smile at family members.
One witness, Christina Joyce, who led Jordan and Nelson to the Gardens in their early-morning search for drugs, testified last week that Nelson had tripped over his own feet before the trailer drove over him.
In Houston's taped statement to police, he said he was unsure how Nelson had fallen.
Houston told police that Nelson's shirt had come out of his grip when Cox punched Nelson in the face.
"I don't know how he managed to fall up under the truck," Houston told police. "I guess he [Cox] hit him pretty hard."
Closing arguments in front of Judge Marvin E. Schlosser are scheduled for today.
Marc Levy's e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org