Onslow County woman pleads guilty to murder of roommate

ONSLOW COUNTY, N.C. (WITN) – A woman charged with killing her roommate more than two years ago pled guilty this morning in court to murder.

Melissa Tobarsalas went before a Superior Court judge this morning where she pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in the death of her roommate, 68-year-old James “Jimmy” Nuell. In exchange, the judge dropped the first-degree murder charge she was facing.

“This case was obviously another example of another senseless loss of life fueled by the defendants substance abuse problems,” said Michele Morton, the Violent Crime Prosecutor for Onslow County.

Onslow County deputies arrested the then 44-year-old woman after they were called to a home in Midway Park on October 4, 2021 at 3:40 in the morning and found Nuell dead in his room. Deputies say when they found Nuell, he had visible bruising and blunt trauma to the face.

Emergency Medical Services was called to the house and saw food, broken glass, and other items spread out on the floor. EMS saw the patient’s back and noticed an obvious abrasion on his left cheek.

According to the Onslow County Sheriff’s Office, the two residents at the home, Tobarsalas and Nuell, got into a fight later that night. According to prosecutors, Tobarsalas appeared to have been drinking before the fight and murder of her roommate.

“I’ve seen cases where people get upset drinking was involved and then there’s the violence whether it be assault, whether it be verbal abuse, some sort of violence,” said the Clinical Director at New Insights DWI Services and Counseling Center, Tammy Hawkins.

WITN spoke with substance abuse counselor, Joseph McCune, who said, “It’s something that is not unique to just this section of the state or the United States. It is something that is prominent to our society, unfortunately.”

Nuell’s family was not in court Wednesday but was on the phone with Morton during the sentencing and hearing. The family wants to see justice and to remember how he was.

“They understand and are very pleased with the disposition,” said Morton. “And the work from the sheriff’s office and the D.A.’s office to bring their family member justice.”

Deputies said this is not a domestic violence case, since the two lived at the same home but were not in a relationship.

Tobarsalas was given a 26 to 32-year prison sentence.