Updated: June 14, 8:15 p.m.
A Flathead County District Court judge declared a mistrial Friday afternoon in a high-profile murder case involving Ryan Lamb after a deadlocked jury determined it was unable to deliver a verdict on deliberate homicide charges following 13 hours of deliberation.
It was a shocking conclusion following nine days of testimony surrounding the events leading up to Aug. 5, 2018, the night 34-year-old Lamb fatally stabbed his boyfriend, 31-year-old Ryan Nixon, inside their Kalispell apartment. Prosecutors charged Lamb with deliberate homicide and alleged he stabbed Nixon during sex while the defense presented evidence suggesting the defendant acted in self-defense.
Judge Robert Allison set the case for a status hearing on July 11 where attorneys will likely discuss retrying the case at a new venue or calling a jury from another jurisdiction.
In an exclusive interview with the Flathead Beacon late Friday, one of the jurors, Nikki Streeter, said she struggled with prosecutors’ decision to charge Lamb with deliberate versus negligent homicide. Streeter said she believed Lamb should be held accountable for the death of Nixon, but she could not find it within herself to convict him of deliberate homicide based on the law.
Asked if she thought Lamb would have been convicted had the Flathead County Attorney’s Office charged him with negligent homicide, she said, “it would have been over in 15 minutes.”
“The deliberate homicide charge made it much more difficult for us,” she said. “It was never a question in my mind that he was guilty; it just came down to the fact that he was charged with deliberate homicide.”
On Thursday, attorneys for both sides delivered closing arguments before the jury retreated to its chambers and deliberated for much of the afternoon. When jurors could draw no conclusion after approximately six hours, Judge Allison sent them home for the night. The jury returned to the courthouse Friday morning and commenced another seven hours of deliberation without success.
Late Friday, the jury sent a note to the court stating they remained deadlocked. Attorneys, family members and the media were told to return to the courthouse and at approximately 4:15 p.m. the 12-person jury entered the courtroom.
“Do you feel that additional time could break this deadlock,” Judge Allison asked the jury foreperson.
“I don’t see us making any more progress,” the jury member said.
The jury member said they had difficulty understanding the instructions given to them about the finer points of the law prior to closing arguments. Allison and the attorneys — County Attorney Travis Ahner, Deputy County Attorney Alison Howard, and defense attorneys Alisha Backus and Emily Lamson — all agreed they could not provide any additional clarifying instructions.
“With the current instructions that we have, I don’t believe we can go any further,” the jury foreperson said.
Allison asked the foreperson for a count of where jury had fallen in the case. The foreperson said 11 members had voted not guilty and one member voted guilty.
“This court declares a mistrial,” Allison said.
After Allison closed the hearing, the courtroom quickly emptied.
County Attorney Ahner said little as he left the courtroom but thanked the 12 men and woman who sat on the jury.
“We’re appreciative of the jury and their efforts,” he said. “They took their time and we’re thankful for their efforts.”
Backus said she was frustrated with the outcome but noted the vote count demonstrated most jurors could not reasonably convict Lamb of the state’s charge of deliberate homicide.
“I think the jury spoke strongly about how they felt about the (state’s) evidence, or lack thereof,” she said.
Backus said it was unclear what would happened next, although she was hopeful they could reach a resolution in the case without having to go to trial again. She said it was an emotionally trying two weeks for everyone involved in the case, especially her client.
“I think he’s scared to have to do this all over again,” she said. “He was hoping that he would be free today.”
Lamb remains incarcerated at the Flathead County Detention Center.
He was arrested and charged with deliberate homicide on Aug. 5, 2018 following the stabbing death of Nixon who he had been dating for three years. When police initially arrived at the men’s apartment on Two Mile Drive, Lamb said he arrived home from work and found Nixon dead. Later, he changed his story, saying he had witnessed one of Nixon’s ex-boyfriends attacking the man. Evidence at the scene and the disparate stories quickly pegged Lamb as a prime suspect.
Lamb was taken to the Kalispell Police Department and interrogated for approximately 11 hours. It was there that Lamb told detectives he and Nixon enjoyed “weird sex” and that they had hurt each other during intercourse in the past. At the end of the 11-hour interrogation, Lamb told officers he had stabbed Nixon during sex with a pair of scissors.
But at trial, Backus presented evidence suggesting Lamb’s confession was coerced and that without it the state’s case fell apart. Lamb took the stand earlier this week and said he stabbed his partner with a pair of scissors in self-defense after Nixon stabbed him in the chest with a fork 16 times.
“I was in fear for my life and I was in pain,” Lamb said on the stand. “I thought he was going to hurt me and kill me.”
Over the course of the nine-day trial, both prosecutors and the defense presented evidence that showed a troubling relationship, one characterized by verbal, emotional and physical abuse. Despite their struggles, Lamb and Nixon stayed together.