Updated: June 13, 8:15 p.m.
Accused of murder, Ryan Lamb’s fate now hinges on the deliberations of 12 men and women in a jury room in the Flathead County Justice Center.
On Thursday, the ninth day of Lamb’s deliberate homicide trial, the jury heard closing arguments from County Attorney Travis Ahner and defense attorney Alisha Backus. After closing arguments, the jury was sworn in and led to a room shortly before noon where they deliberated for nearly six hours before the court released them for the night. The jury will resume deliberations again Friday morning.
Lamb, 34, is charged with felony deliberate homicide. Prosecutors allege Lamb fatally stabbed his partner Ryan Nixon, 31, while having sex at their Kalispell apartment on Aug. 5, 2018. But the defense team is painting a different picture in which Nixon was an abusive partner, saying Lamb stabbed him in self defense because he was being attacked with a fork at the time of the incident.
If convicted, Lamb could spend the rest of his life in prison.
During his closing argument, Ahner came back to a point lead prosecutor Alison Howard made during her opening statement: that Lamb’s long series of lies and inconsistent stories demonstrate he is obscuring the truth.
“There is no reason to lie if you have done nothing wrong,” Ahner said.
According to testimony, Lamb and Nixon worked together at Rivals Bar and Casino. Both men worked shifts on Aug. 4, 2018. After finishing their shifts, evidence and witness testimony shows the two men went to Fatt Boys Bar and Grill and then to the Gold Dust Casino. The two men left the casino shortly before 2 a.m. on Aug. 5. Security camera footage revealed Lamb went south — he later testified he went to get a beer at a nearby gas station — and Nixon walked north toward the apartment on Two Mile Drive where the alleged homicide occurred.
What happened next is where the prosecutors and the defense disagree.
According to prosecutors, when Lamb arrived home after Nixon, the two men had sex. Prosecutors presented testimony that suggests the men both enjoyed and frequently engaged in violent sex. At some point during that sexual encounter, Nixon allegedly stabbed Lamb in the chest with a fork. Lamb then took a pair of scissors and stabbed Nixon three times in the chest.
Selam Christian lived above the two men and said she woke up to loud noises from the downstairs apartment. At one point she also heard two distinct voices.
“You hurt me,” someone said.
“That’s because you stabbed me in the heart with a fork,” another voice said.
But on the stand earlier this week, Lamb shared a different version of what happened. Lamb testified that both men began fighting in the casino parking lot and that’s why they parted ways in the security camera footage.
When Lamb later returned to the apartment, Nixon was angry and throwing items around the apartment. Lamb said he went to 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 said that he was. According to Lamb, the comment sent Nixon into a rage and he grabbed Lamb from behind and forcibly held him. Lamb then testified that he felt an extreme pain in his chest from being stabbed with a fork.
Lamb testified this week 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 testified that he stabbed Nixon with the scissors three times. Lamb also apparently struck Nixon in the back of the head with the bowl, resulting in a large gash. 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 said he found Nixon dead in the shower. Lamb ran to call 911.
When police arrived, Lamb was screaming in the front of the apartment, according to body camera footage. Lamb initially told officers that he had come home from work and found Nixon injured and unconscious. Later, Lamb told the same officers that he believed Nixon’s ex-boyfriend, David Delarosa, attacked the man. Investigators later learned that Nixon’s ex-boyfriend was not in the Kalispell area at the time of the stabbing. Lamb was taken to the Kalispell Police Department for further questioning.
Lamb was kept at the Kalispell Police Department for 11 hours, with the whole time period caught on tape. In the early afternoon of Aug. 5, about nine hours after arriving at the station, Lamb admitted to the lead detective on the case, Capt. Jim Wardensky, that he was the one who stabbed Nixon. Lamb told Wardensky that they were engaging in sex when Nixon stabbed him with a fork in the chest. Nixon then allegedly suggested using the scissors on Lamb, but Lamb was scared. Instead, Lamb used the scissors on Nixon and then stabbed him three times in what he told the officer he thought was a “safe spot.”
“It was consensual,” Lamb said during the interrogation. “It was just taken to an extreme.”
But during the cross-examination of Wardensky, defense attorney Backus suggested that the confession was coerced. Backus showed a different clip, one right before the apparent confession, where Wardensky told Lamb he was most likely being charged with deliberate homicide. Lamb appeared shocked.
“Is there something I can say that changes that?” Lamb said.
“Yeah,” the officer said.
The two continued to talk, and Lamb asked questions about people getting hurt while having sex and if charges were ever filed because of that. Wardensky told him about a previous call he had been on where a woman stabbed her boyfriend in the back while having sex. The man called 911 and police responded to the scene. According to Wardensky, the man and woman agreed that it had been consensual.
“We walked away and no one got charged with a crime,” Wardensky told Lamb in the video.
During her closing arguments, Backus told the jury that without the confession, the state’s case falls apart. Backus said Lamb stabbed Nixon because he was scared, a feeling fueled by years of physical, verbal and emotional abuse at Nixon’s hand.
“There are no monsters here,” she said. “Someone lost their life while another person was fighting for theirs.”
During a brief rebuttal, Ahner dismissed the idea that Lamb was acting in self-defense and showed two pictures to the jury: one of the fork marks on Lamb’s chest and one of Nixon dead in the bathtub.
“Do those fork marks justify that?” Ahner asked as the photo of Nixon flashed on the screen.
The case was handed to the jury at 11:51 a.m.