A Hays man pleaded no contest to three of 10 counts of sexual exploitation of a child for images found on a computer in a plea bargain Thursday in Ellis County District Court.

Recommended sentencing for Michael John Nelson, 43, is a total of 36 months in prison and registration for life as a sex offender. Under state guidelines, the charges carry a sentence of 31 to 136 months, depending on criminal history. Sentencing is scheduled for 3 p.m. Feb. 4.

As part of the plea bargain, the state will not seek further prosecution for the remainder of the approximately 3,259 images found on a computer that allegedly belonged to Nelson.

Nelson appeared in court for a combined competency hearing, waiver of preliminary hearing and plea. An interview with High Plains Mental Health Center found him competent.

“You would agree you’re competent to stand trial?” Chief Judge Glenn Braun asked Nelson.

Nelson hesitated before answering “yes.” Braun noted the hesitation and asked Nelson again if he believed he could assist his attorney with his defense if the case were going to trial instead. Nelson again hesitantly answered “yes.” It was one of several questions Nelson hesitated before answering.

Twice during the judge’s questioning if he understood the rights he was giving up, Nelson conferred with Max Eulert, his second attorney in the case. His first attorney, Cheryl Stewart, Oakley, previously had filed a motion to withdraw, citing a breakdown in the relationship with Nelson and suggesting a male attorney would represent him better.

The case against Nelson came to light just over two years ago when a man contacted Ellis County Attorney Tom Drees, admitting he had burglarized Nelson’s apartment at El Charro, 2010 E. Eighth, taking a flash drive, external hard drive and computer tower. He was granted immunity in return for his testimony and turning over the hardware.

A forensic copy of the hard drive showed a folder that contained the more than 3,000 child sexual exploitation images and video, Assistant County Attorney David Aschwege said.

The three charges that Nelson pleaded no contest to involved children under the age of 6.