After Mistrial it’s ‘Back to Square One’ on Ryan Lamb Murder Case

Prosecutors consider next steps after jury fails to deliver verdict against man accused of stabbing partner

By Justin Franz
Ryan Lamb answers questions under cross-examination in Flathead County District Court on June 11, 2019 on day seven of his trial. Ryan Lamb is charged with felony deliberate homicide after being accused of stabbing his partner Ryan Nixon on Aug. 5, 2018. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

More than a week after a Flathead County judge declared a mistrial in the case against a Kalispell man accused of stabbing his partner, prosecutors say they are exploring all options moving forward.

On June 14, Judge Robert Allison declared a mistrial after a 12-person jury was unable to reach a verdict in the case against Ryan Lamb, a 34-year-old Kalispell man accused of deliberate homicide. Prosecutors alleged that Lamb stabbed and killed his partner, Ryan Nixon, 31, with scissors while having sex. But the defense argued that Lamb was acting in self-defense.

After 13 hours of deliberation on June 13 and 14, the jury voted 11 not guilty to one guilty, resulting in a mistrial. The case is set for a status hearing on July 11, where attorneys will discuss their next steps, including the possibility of retrying the case in another venue or calling a jury from another community.

“We’re back to square one,” said Deputy County Attorney Alison Howard, who acted as the lead prosecutor in the case.

Howard and County Attorney Travis Ahner said that no trial is guaranteed to result in a conviction and, because of that, they often prepare the alleged victim’s family for such an outcome. However, mistrials are rare. Howard said of the 25 to 30 cases the county attorney’s office takes to trial each year, perhaps one or two result in such an outcome.

After the trial, one of the jurors, Nikki Streeter, told the Beacon that she thought Lamb should be held accountable for the murder of Nixon, but she struggled with the county attorney’s decision to charge him with deliberate homicide.

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.”

Ahner and Howard said they could not talk about the specifics of their decision to charge Lamb with deliberate homicide, but they did say Lamb could be charged with a lesser crime in the future.

“An amended charge is always an option,” Ahner said. “We’re taking this one step at a time right now and we want to talk to the jury to see what makes the most sense.”
Ahner said prosecutors have sought feedback from members of the jury and they will continue to do so in the coming weeks. Ahner also said that it was possible prosecutors would try to resolve the case without going to trial again.

On June 18, defense attorney Alisha Backus filed a motion for a bond reduction hearing. It’s unclear if that motion would be addressed during the July 11 hearing. Lamb is currently being held on $300,000 bond in the Flathead County Detention Center.