Oct 10, 2012 - By Katie Roenigk, Staff WriterRiverton Judge Wes Roberts determined Wednesday that suitable evidence exists to bind the state's second-degree murder case against Dustin Nickelson over to district court in Lander.
Nickelson has been in custody since Sept. 13, when he was arrested in connection with the shooting death of Lucas Myhre, 27, of Riverton. The shooting reportedly took place at about 9:30 p.m. in front of Nickelson's apartment at 811 E. Adams Ave.
RPD detective Jason Cox was called to the stand Wednesday to discuss the minutes before Myhre's death. Cox said he spoke with Nickelson's neighbor, who Myhre had intended to visit on Sept. 13.
"Myhre had come to her residence," Cox said. "Myhre had stated he went to (Nickelson's) house and had knocked on the wrong door. He also stated ... that (Nickelson) had pulled a gun on him."
He said Nickelson knocked on the woman's door "loudly" soon after Myhre arrived.
"Nickelson asked her who the guy was in her apartment," Cox said, confirming that Nickelson was holding the .45 caliber handgun in his left hand. "(The men) encountered each other at the front door of the residence, and words were exchanged. ... She turned away for a second and looked back and Nickelson was up in Myhre's face. She stated Myhre then pushed Nickelson."
Other people in the apartment intervened, Cox said, and Nickelson left, returning to his own apartment. Cox said Myhre went outside soon afterward and spoke with three people who had been waiting for him in a vehicle.
"(He told them) that a guy had pulled a gun on him," Cox said. "He asked if they wanted to see a guy get beat up."
Cox said Myhre went back to the apartment building, and he said Nickelson reported that Myhre attempted to enter apartment 2.
"On initial contact Myhre apologized to (Nickelson) then called him on to fight outside of the apartment several times," Cox said. "He also told him that he would take the gun from him. ... Nickelson stated he did not go outside to fight and told him he did not want to fight him."
Cox said Nickelson reported that Myhre at some point took a "step in an aggression act towards" Nickelson while Nickelson was standing inside of the apartment.
"Nickelson told me he took the safety off (his) weapon then fired one after another," Cox said. "Nickelson told me his first shot he had aimed in the stomach region of Mr. Myhre. ... Nickelson described after two shots Mr. Myhre starting to turn away as he fell to the ground."
RPD detective Michael Phillips said officers did not find any blood inside of the apartment, though something that looked like blood was present on the outside of the threshold to the building. Outside of the apartment, Phillips said, there was "quite a bit of visible blood."
Seven bullets, 18 wounds
Phillips said he arrived at the crime scene Sept. 13 and observed the body of Lucas Myhre covered by a blanket and lying on the sidewalk in front of the steps to Nickelson's apartment.
Phillips said Nickelson told police on scene that Nickelson had "fired on Lucas Myhre" eight times.
"Then he unloaded the gun and set it on the couch," Phillips said. "I believe it was a SAR .45 caliber semi-automatic pistol."
Phillips also was present at Myhre's autopsy Sept. 15 in Loveland, Colo., where pathologists determined that seven bullets had struck Myhre's body.
"Out of those seven bullets that hit the body there was a total of 18 in-and-out holes," Phillips said. "One round would have passed through the exterior and interior of (his left arm), through the body cavity, then in and out the opposite arm, thus leaving six holes."
He said the bullet that left six holes traveled through Myhre's heart.
Fremont County deputy attorney Patrick LeBrun asked Phillips to describe the impact of the other shots, several of which entered Myhre's body from the back.
"He had a shot which basically went from the back end of the head and came out the side," Phillips said.
Phillips also described a shot to the back of Myhre's left shoulder, one that struck Myhre's left arm, and another that hit Myhre's lower back on the right side. One bullet also traveled through Myhre's left thigh while another struck his right thigh, Phillips confirmed. Phillips said he believes Myhre died almost instantaneously, and he said the autopsy did not reveal any evidence of close-range firing.
Nickelson attorney John LaBuda asked whether there was any way to determine how quickly the shots were fired.
"A semi-automatic you could fire at rapid succession,"R00;Phillips said.
In his closing statement, LeBrun said there is "clearly" probable cause that Nickelson purposely and maliciously killed a human being. He said the shots, most of which struck Myhre from behind, demonstrate malice.
"(And) there's no evidence at this point that there's any blood inside of the defendant's apartment," LeBrun said. "If he shot inside the apartment there's going to be some blood (inside)."
He said Myhre's alleged threat to fight Nickelson demonstrates motive for the killing.
LaBuda said the sole issue in the case has to do with malice, which he defined using Wyoming case law as the commissioning of a wrongful act due to hatred, ill will or hostility. However, he said Wyoming statutes allow use of force for self defense.
"I believe it's what's commonly referred to as the 'castle doctrine,'" LaBuda said, explaining that a person is allowed to use defense or force if he or she "had reason to believe an unlawful or forceful entry was occurring."
"My client is just in his house, his domain, his castle, exercising his constitutional right to bear arms when a total stranger comes to his door,"R00;LaBuda said.
He pointed out that Nickelson had his gun next door when Myhre allegedly pushed Nickelson, but Nickelson didn't use the weapon at that time.
LaBuda's request that the case be dismissed was denied. Nickelson is in custody on a $1 million bond.
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