A Kalispell man accused of stabbing his boyfriend to death pleaded guilty Wednesday to negligent homicide after striking a plea deal that requires prosecutors to dismiss the original charge of deliberate homicide.
Ryan Lamb, 35, appeared in Flathead County District Court and entered his guilty plea by way of an Alford Plea, a legal nuance wherein a criminal defendant stops short of admitting guilt but acknowledges prosecutors have mounted enough evidence to obtain a conviction at trial.
In exchange for the plea, prosecutors will ask Judge Robert Allison to impose a sentence of 10 years in the Montana State Prison with no time suspended and no parole restrictions.
Lamb’s defense attorney will in turn recommend a sentence of 10 years in the Montana State Prison with all of the time suspended, while reserving the defendant’s right to withdraw his plea if the judge imposes a sentence harsher than that to which prosecutors agreed.
Under the agreement, Lamb, who remains free on his own recognizance pending sentencing, will receive credit for the period of incarceration he’s already served and will be required to pay funeral costs to the victim’s family. He’ll also be required to pay restitution to the Crime Victim Compensation Fund, which has already made payment to the victim’s family.
A sentencing hearing is slated for Feb. 12, 2020, and is scheduled to run all afternoon to allow for testimony from both sides. A pre-sentence investigation report will be prepared prior to the hearing.
Lamb’s change of plea draws the dramatic case one step closer to a conclusion and comes on the heels of a lengthy trial that ended with a hung jury and prompted a circuitous legal battle that went all the way to the Montana Supreme Court.
In June, Lamb stood trial on a charge of deliberate homicide for fatally stabbing his then-boyfriend Ryan Nixon during a sexual act in 2018. After nine days of testimony and 13 hours of deliberation, the jury was unable to reach a verdict.
Judge 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.
Lamb was arrested after he stabbed and killed Nixon, 31, with scissors during a sexual encounter in August 2018 at the couple’s shared apartment in Kalispell. Lamb was charged with a single count of deliberate homicide.
Prosecutors alleged at trial that Lamb enjoyed violent sex and the use of the scissors was part of that. But the defense argued 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.”