Ryan Lamb Murder Trial Moves Forward After Supreme Court Rejects Appeal

Four months after mistrial, defense attorneys argued that to retry Lamb would violate his rights

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

The Montana Supreme Court has rejected an appeal by a Kalispell man accused of murder to review a lower court judge’s decision not to dismiss the case after declaring a mistrial.

In June, 34-year-old Ryan Lamb stood trial for stabbing his boyfriend during a sexual act in 2018. After nine days of testimony and 13 hours of deliberation, the jury was unable to reach a verdict. Flathead County Judge Robert Allison declared a mistrial, setting the stage for a new trial in 2020.

But soon after the trial, Lamb’s attorneys filed a motion to dismiss, arguing that having their client stand trial again would be a violation of the double jeopardy clause of the constitution. Judge Allison rejected that motion.

In October, in what state prosecutors called an “extraordinary” move, Lamb’s defense team used a century-old statute called the writ of supervisory control to appeal the decision to the Montana Supreme Court.

In the petition for writ of supervisory control filed on Sept. 16, public defender Greg Rapkoch argued that Judge Allison should have never declared a mistrial after just 13 hours of deliberation and because of that the subsequent motion to dismiss should have been approved.

However, the Montana Supreme Court disagreed and on Nov. 19 ruled that Allison had acted properly when he declared a mistrial and rejected the motion to dismiss.

“Because it properly declared a mistrial, the court is not proceeding under a mistake of law to proceed with Lamb’s retrial,” wrote Justice Laurie McKinnon.

The decision clears the way for Lamb’s case to move forward. A pre-trial conference is scheduled for Dec. 11 in Flathead County District Court.

Lamb was arrested after he stabbed and killed his partner, Ryan Nixon, 31, with scissors during a sexual encounter in August 2018 at their apartment in Kalispell. Lamb was charged with a single count of deliberate homicide. Prosecutors allege that Lamb enjoyed violent sex and the use of the scissors was part of that. But the defense argued that Lamb was acting in self-defense and that Nixon was an abusive partner.

In an interview with the Beacon after the trial, one of the jurors said the group struggled with the prosecutor’s decision to charge Lamb with deliberate homicide instead of negligent 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.”

After the mistrial, the county attorney’s office filed an alternative charge of negligent homicide, which means a jury could acquit Lamb of the deliberate homicide charge and instead convict him of the lesser charge. Lamb has pleaded not guilty to the alternative negligent homicide charge.

Lamb is currently out on bail.