During the second day of Jeffrey Nixon’s trial for murder, the jury heard two very different accounts of what happened in Wesley Collins’ apartment on April 12, 2010.
One consistency in both narratives was that Collins, a 49-year-old resident of Kalispell, was beaten to death with hammers. How and why it happened is less clear.
Prosecutors allege that Nixon and his friend Robert Lake killed Collins in order to steal his medical marijuana and other possessions, which they were planning to sell.
However, in District Court on Tuesday, Lake gave a completely different reason for the death. He contended that striking a blow to Collins’ head with a hammer was a matter of self-defense.
Lake has already been convicted of deliberate homicide in this case, but told prosecutors during Tuesday’s proceedings that he has no recollection of the March hearing during which he changed his plea to guilty. Nor does he recall making a statement at his sentencing hearing in April, Lake said, at which he received a 110-year prison term.
He attributed the loss of memory to active hallucinations during the hearings.
In his testimony on July 12, Lake said he and his girlfriend Karrolyn Robinson suspected Collins of stealing $600 of rent money they had left on the table in their apartment.
Lake said he and Nixon went upstairs to confront Collins about the money, but instead learned he was being evicted. Lake said Collins asked him to store some of his bigger possessions – including a big
screen TV – in his and Robinson’s apartment until he could find a new place.
After a while of moving large objects out of Collins’ apartment, Lake said they decided to take a break and smoke some pot, as they had done with Collins in the past.
Lake said he noticed a hammer and a needle on the table, and alleged that Collins stood up and took at swipe and him and Nixon with the knife he wore on his hip.
“Only thing I could do was pick up my chair or pick up the hammer. So I picked up the hammer,” Lake said.
He said he hit Collins in the head with the hammer and stuck the needle in his neck.
Lake said he did not see Nixon hit Collins with the other hammer present, but he eventually took both tools downstairs to his apartment.
“I didn’t call the police because I was on bond,” Lake said. “I was scared.”
Lake’s account largely contrasted with the state’s next witness, Nate Shumaker, whose truck was used to dispose of Collins’ body up Patrick Creek outside of Kalispell.
Shumaker, who said he considers Nixon a brother, told the court that he received a call from Nixon on April 12 requesting him to drive into town from Marion and that Nixon had $100 in gas money for him.
When he got to the apartment, Shumaker said he learned that the upstairs neighbor was dead, and Nixon needed his truck because he had killed him.
Nixon then allegedly told Shumaker that he and Lake were supposed to go into Collins’ apartment to steal the marijuana, but Collins walked in unexpectedly.
According to Shumaker, Collins started yelling and freaking out and Nixon said he grabbed the closest thing to him – a hammer – and hit Collins. Shumaker said he told Nixon he did not want to be involved.
“He said, ‘I don’t need you, I need your truck,’” Shumaker told prosecutors.
However, Shumaker told defense attorney Nicolas Aemisegger that Lake also took credit for the murder.
Prosecutors also presented text messages obtained from Nixon, Lake, Robinson and Cody Naldrett, who helped move and hide the body. The texts document the time between the murder and the subsequent arrests five days later.
In one, Lake asks Naldrett’s girlfriend to send him over. Naldrett, who testified in court on July 12, said Lake took him upstairs to Collins’ apartment and told him to keep cool when he went inside. There, Naldrett said he saw Collins’ body on the floor with a white, bloody towel wrapped around his head.
Then he, Nixon and Lake moved the body onto blankets and bound it with cords. They carried it into a back room, and Nixon went to get the truck, Naldrett said, while he and Lake lifted the body and pushed it out the window.
Before they pushed the body, Naldrett said he tied one of the cords to a nearby weight-lifting set because he wanted to make some noise. When they pushed the body, the weight set hit the wall loudly, and Lake “threw a fit.”
Naldrett said he was scared for his own life because he had seen what Lake was capable of. The three men loaded Collins’ body into the back of the truck and smoked weed all the way to the Patrick Creek dumpsite, Naldrett said.
On the way back, Naldrett said they smoked more marijuana, and once they got to the apartment complex, “they went their way and I went mine.”
Naldrett said that Lake brought him two marijuana plants the next day.
Robinson also testified on Tuesday, saying that she downplayed Lake’s role in the murder in most of her conversations with investigators because she was trying to protect her family. She and Lake have a daughter together.
She said she started telling investigators more about Lake’s involvement when she learned he was carrying on a relationship with another woman. She is currently serving eight years in prison for admitting her role in covering up the crime.
“You’ve never allowed the entire truth to be told, even now as we’re sitting here today,” Aemisegger said.
“I’ve told you everything I know,” Robinson responded.
Nixon faces charges of deliberate homicide, robbery, tampering with physical evidence and burglary. His trial is scheduled to run through Friday.
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