A 27-year-old Kalispell man whose previous rape conviction was overturned by a higher court was sentenced to 50 years in prison for sexually assaulting a 5-year-old girl.
Thomas Richard Nichols was sentenced July 21 in Flathead County District Court a year after the Montana Supreme Court overturned a separate sexual assault conviction because jurors had heard unfairly prejudicial testimony during a 2011 trial.
In December 2015, Nichols’ was accused of sexually assaulting another child. According to court documents, a Flathead County sheriff’s deputy talked to a woman who said her 5-year-old daughter had stayed at Nichols’ house on multiple occasions between June and December. Following a recent visit, the young girl told her mother that Nichols had touched her in a sexual manner. The girl gave authorities the same account during a forensic interview, and Nichols was arrested on Dec. 11. He was charged with sexual assault.
Nichols initially pleaded not guilty but earlier this year took a deal to plea Alford. An Alford plea occurs when a defendant does not admit guilt but acknowledges that the prosecution has enough evidence that, if presented to a jury, would likely result in a conviction.
On July 21, District Court Judge Heidi Ulbricht sentenced Nichols to 50 years in the Montana State Prison with credit for time served. He was also given a 10-year sentence to run consecutively for the 2010 assault, for a combined 60 years. He was also given credit for time served. Nichols will be registered as a Level II sex offender and will have to take two treatment programs prior to being eligible for parole. Prior to release into the community, Nichols will also have to take a drug that reduces sexual desires and fantasies.
The sentencing came five years after Nichols was first accused of sexually assaulting a minor. In early 2010, Nichols touched a 9-year-old girl in a sexual way. He was charged with sexual assault and sexual intercourse without consent and was found guilty of both at trial in December 2011. He was sentenced to 40 years in prison.
In early 2015, the Montana Supreme Court overturned his conviction, arguing that jurors had heard unfairly prejudicial testimony during the trial, specifically about Nichols’ past sexual habits.
Soon after the conviction was overturned, the Flathead County Attorney’s Office again filed charges against Nichols. In June 2015, he took a deal and pleaded no contest to an amended charge of felony criminal endangerment. The second count, sexual intercourse without consent, was dropped and Nichols was given a 10-year suspended sentence to the Montana State Prison.
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