Ryan Lamb, the Kalispell man who stabbed his boyfriend to death with a pair of scissors in August 2018, was sentenced Wednesday to 10 years in the Montana State Prison for the crime of negligent homicide.
The Feb. 12 hearing in Flathead County District Court came two months after Lamb, 35, pleaded guilty by way of Alford to a single count of negligent homicide. The plea deal, which saw prosecutors dropping a deliberate homicide charge, came five months after a nine-day trial resulted in a hung jury.
Lamb was arrested in 2018 after stabbing his partner, 31-year-old Ryan Nixon, during a sexual encounter at the apartment they shared in Kalispell. Prosecutors alleged at trial that Lamb enjoyed violent sex and that the use of scissors was part of that. But the defense argued Lamb was acting in self-defense and that Nixon was an abusive partner.
During the hearing on Wednesday afternoon, dozens of Nixon’s friends and family filled the courtroom wearing t-shirts that read “Justice for Ryan Nixon” above a photo of the victim.
A number of Nixon’s family members provided testimony about how the murder impacted them. One of the most emotional moments came when Nixon’s mother, Lynn Nixon, described how the death of her son changed her life forever.
“Shame on you, Ryan Lamb, shame on you,” she said, breaking down at one point. “My son is in a urn in my living room and that’s all I have left. But you get to breathe and laugh and live. My son will never be able to do any of those things.”
“Shame on you.”
Amber Nixon, Ryan Nixon’s sister, also took the stand to recall the middle-of-the night call she received from her mother telling her that her little brother was dead.
“That was the worst call of my entire life,” she said. “Those words changed my life forever: Ryan is dead.”
The sister also took issue with the decision to give Lamb a plea deal where he could plead guilty to negligent homicide by way of Alford, 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.
“What you did was cold-blooded murder. There was nothing negligent about it,” she said.
Next a therapist who worked with Lamb before and after the killing testified that she believed Lamb would do better going to an outpatient treatment center. Prior to sentencing, Lamb was attending a treatment facility in Portland, Ore. The therapist said the defendant posed no threat to the community, only himself.
The therapist also said that, based on her experience, Lamb displayed behavior suggesting he was in an abusive relationship. One of Nixon’s family members scoffed at the suggestion from the courtroom’s gallery and stormed out.
Lamb then briefly spoke from the defendant’s table, describing the progress he’s made in achieving a sober lifestyle and his belief that incarceration would halt that growth. Lamb also expressed regret for what happened the night of Aug. 5, 2018. He again said he killed Nixon in self-defense but that ultimately he loved the man.
“Sometimes I wish I let him kill me that night instead of me killing him in self-defense,” Lamb said before breaking down.
At the outset of the hearing, defense attorneys Alisha Backus and Emily Lamson filed multiple objections to a number of items in the pre-sentencing investigation report that noted Lamb had not provided answers to certain questions. Deputy Flathead County Attorney Allison Howard said it was important that the document be complete prior to Lamb’s sentencing. Judge Robert Allison agreed that some parts of the document could be stricken from the record and allowed the proceeding to continue.
Attorneys on both sides made sentencing recommendations, with prosecutors arguing that Lamb posed a danger to the public and should spend 10 years in prison. The defense attorneys said Lamb should continue treatment while serving a 10-year suspended sentence to the Montana State Prison.
Before handing down his sentence, Judge Allison said he believed Lamb and Nixon had a “toxic relationship” but that regardless of what happened the defendant needed to face the consequences of his actions.
“There are some cases where punishment is not the priority,” he said. “In this case it should be.”
Along with the 10-year sentence, Lamb was forced to pay more than $10,000 in restitution to the family and the state crime victim advocate program.