A Richland County man was found guilty Thursday of murdering a Kalispell woman on Valentine’s Day in 2013.
A jury in Sidney convicted Cody Wayne Johnston of deliberate homicide on Thursday in the death of his on-again, off-again girlfriend, Nicole Waller. A sentencing date has not been set, according to Richland County District Court officials.
Johnston was arrested and charged with murder in August 2015, more than two years after Waller, 31, went missing. Waller’s body has never been recovered.
According to court documents, Waller and Johnston grew up in the Kalispell-area in the 1990s. Waller reconnected with Johnston in 2011 and the two started dating. At the time, Johnston was living in Fairview, on the Montana-North Dakota border.
Waller made numerous trips to visit Johnston but family members said the relationship was unstable and the couple had separated multiple times. In February 2013, Waller made another trip to Fairview, but within a few days she told friends that the relationship was again deteriorating and that she had ended it with Johnston, according to court records. She told multiple people on the night of Feb. 13 and morning of Feb. 14 that she was returning to Kalispell. That was the last any of Waller’s family or friends heard from her.
Waller was reported missing on Feb. 16 and her vehicle was found abandoned on U.S. Highway 2 near Poplar. The Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Montana Department of Justice took over the missing persons case and a few months later announced that they believed Waller was murdered.
According to court records, evidence suggests that Johnston killed Waller on the morning of Feb. 14 and later disposed of her body in a barrel, although it has never been recovered.
That same day, Johnston allegedly asked a friend to help him move Waller’s Ford Expedition from Fairview to Poplar, a distance of about 68 miles, where he abandoned the vehicle on U.S. Highway 2. When the friend asked Johnston why they were moving the vehicle he said that he had found out Waller was cheating on him and he wanted to play a joke on her.
When authorities interviewed Johnston soon after Waller disappeared, he told them that he had stayed at the shop where he worked in Sidney the night before Waller disappeared because they had been fighting. He told officers that he had stayed at the shop until noon Feb. 14, but cell phone records show he had actually gone back to Fairview early that morning. At least one witness told authorities that they saw Johnston parked outside of his home at about 7:30 a.m. with the engine running on his truck.
Phone data shows Johnston then returned to the shop he worked at and witnesses said he used a company computer to deactivate Waller’s cell phone, which he was paying for. Johnston then allegedly returned home to Fairview around 9 a.m. About a half-hour later, Johnston’s phone was turned off for three hours. It is during that time that investigators believe Johnston disposed of Waller’s body.
Less than a week later, Waller’s sister told authorities that she had received a message from Waller’s Facebook account which read “Had a lovely night, not coming home, don’t laugh at me, sorry for letting everyone down.” The sister sent a message back to Waller but never received a response.
Upon investigating the Facebook post, authorities learned that Johnston had reached out to at least three people asking them to log on to Waller’s Facebook account and send fake messages stating that she was all right. He told at least one person that he wanted it done because police had been “hounding” him about his missing girlfriend.
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