News & Features

Defendant Says Partner was Physically Violent Before Fatal Stabbing

During testy cross-examination, prosecutor challenges defendant on inconsistencies in self-defense claim

The crux of Ryan Lamb’s self-defense claim emerged Tuesday in the Kalispell man’s deliberate homicide trial as he described his version of events leading up to the stabbing death of his partner, including the victim’s drunken and physically violent behavior.

On the seventh day of testimony in the 34-year-old Lamb’s murder trial, which has been unfolding in Flathead County District Court, Lamb took the stand for a second consecutive day to explain the bizarre events he says led up to the Aug. 5, 2018 stabbing death of Ryan Nixon, 31, with whom he had been in a tumultuous relationship for three years.

Lamb is charged with felony deliberate homicide. Prosecutors allege Lamb fatally stabbed Nixon during a rough or violent sex act, an assertion they’ve drawn based on details he gave during a jailhouse confession.

But the defense team is portraying a different series of events in which Nixon was a persistently abusive partner, and Lamb stabbed him in self-defense during a drunken fight because Nixon was attacking him with a fork. The defense contends that Lamb subsequently gave the confession under duress following an 11-hour interrogation with law enforcement, who misled the defendant about the prospect of criminal charges.

Lamb first took the stand on Monday and characterized Nixon as a verbally and physically abusive partner. Lamb’s testimony continued Tuesday as he described leaving Montana on multiple occasions to escape Nixon’s abuse. Lamb testified that he moved to Portland, Ore. and would not communicate with Nixon for weeks or months at a time. However, despite multiple breakups, the two men always ended up back together.

In one instance, Nixon apparently promised Lamb a job and a place to live with him in Missoula, the defendant testified, but both of those promises fell through.

In February 2018, police responded to a Kalispell casino where officers met Lamb who reported Nixon threw a phone at his head. A month later, in March 2018, Lamb called police again to report that Nixon cut him with a knife. However, the following day Lamb went to police and said he had cut himself.

On the stand, Lamb said he cut himself in an effort to get Nixon in trouble with law enforcement as a last-ditch effort to escape Nixon’s abuse.

“I was desperate,” he said.

Lamb testified that he and Nixon had been drinking throughout the day on Aug. 4, 2018. By the time Lamb finished his shift at a Kalispell bar called Rivals late that night Nixon had been drinking for a number of hours.

“He was pretty intoxicated that night and was trying to start fights about anything and everything,” he testified.

The couple continued drinking at Fatt Boys Bar and Grille and then at the Gold Dust Casino into the early morning hours of Aug. 5. Security camera showed both men leaving the casino shortly before 2 a.m.

Lamb testified that both men started fighting in the casino parking lot. Nixon is seen in the video walking north, toward his apartment, and Lamb is seen walking south. According to Lamb, he went to get another drink at a nearby gas station.

According to Lamb, when he returned to the apartment, Nixon was angry and throwing items around the apartment. Lamb said he went to take a shower and when he came back out Nixon was still angry. Lamb said he decided to leave but Nixon was standing between him and the door.

Nixon allegedly accused him of wanting to leave to sleep with another man. Frustrated, Lamb admitted that he was. According to Lamb, the comment sent Nixon into a rage and he grabbed Lamb from behind and held him. Lamb then testified that he felt an extreme pain in his chest from being stabbed with a fork.

Lamb testified that what happened next was “blurry” but that he remembers grabbing a pair of scissors and a bowl from the counter. At this point, Lamb apparently stabbed Nixon with the scissors three times. Lamb testified that his next clear memory was Nixon on the floor bleeding from the head but conscious.

Lamb said he and Nixon agreed they should not call 911 because they did not want police to show up for fear that Nixon — who had already been warned by his landlord about having Lamb at the apartment — would lose his rental. Lamb decided to leave to find a phone and call his father, who until recently worked at North Valley Hospital. Lamb was unable to get hold of his father.

When Lamb returned to the apartment, he found Nixon dead in the shower. Lamb ran to call 911.

Lamb stood by his explanation that he acted in self-defense.

“I was in fear for my life and I was in pain,” he said. “I thought he was going to hurt me and kill me.”

During the first part of testimony, while being questioned by defense attorney Alisha Backus, Lamb was emotional, at times crying as he told his story. But Lamb was less emotional during a testy cross-examination with lead prosecutor Alison Howard.

“It just doesn’t add up,” Howard said.

Howard confronted Lamb on his changing stories and asked why he had initially told officers at the scene that he saw Nixon’s ex-boyfriend attack him. She asked why he gave different accounts of how he found Nixon; in one version he said he found him lying against a wall with scissors in his stomach and later found him in the shower. In another version of events, Lamb said he moved Nixon to the shower himself.

Lamb said he was tired, confused and emotionally distraught and could not think straight when being questioned by police.

Howard also asked why he never mentioned that he stabbed Nixon in self-defense until he was standing trial.

“Everything you said was to protect yourself, wasn’t it?” Howard said.

“No,” Lamb responded.

“You have never before given anyone the story you told from the stand today, have you?” Howard asked.

“Correct,” Lamb said.

“And you admit that you stabbed Ryan Nixon with scissors,” Howard asked.

“Yes,” Lamb said.

Testimony will continue on Wednesday.

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