May 3, 2013 - By Christina George, Staff WriterDustin Dean Nickelson will never forget the evening of Sept. 13, 2012.
"I am sorry for shooting Lucas; at the time I never knew who he was," Nickelson said. "But those moments that night will be the worst moments of my life and his. ... Just know that I am very sorry for the way things happened that night."
For nearly 20 minutes, Nickelson, 24, of Riverton, sat at the witness box and testified about the events of the evening he shot and killed Lucas Myhre.
"I wish I could change it," Nickelson told the more than two dozen people attending his May 2 sentencing hearing at the 9th Judicial District Court in Lander. "I wish I never answered the damn door."
Per a plea agreement, Nickelson in March pleaded guilty to manslaughter in connection with the shooting death of Myhre, 27, of Riverton.
Nickelson initially claimed innocence to the original charge of second-degree murder, and he could have faced life in prison if found guilty of the higher charge.
Manslaughter carries up to 20 years in prison. However, the plea deal stipulated sentencing to be capped at six to 12 years.
Fremont County deputy prosecutor Pat LeBrun on Thursday argued for the sentence specified in the agreement.
"At the end of the day there has to be a punishment. There has to be a reckoning for taking someone else's life," LeBrun said.
One of Nickelson's attorneys, John LaBuda of Pinedale, recommended his client serve four to eight years in prison with boot camp or two to four years of jail time if boot camp was not agreed upon.
"I just ask the court to be fair," LaBuda said.
Judge Norman E. Young responded by saying there are many definitions of fairness and justice.
"Nothing this court does is going to make anyone happy," Young said. "This was all so avoidable, just so avoidable."
He called it "profoundly sad on so many levels" and said he "unduly appreciates" the seriousness of the offense and loss of human life.
Young sentenced Nickelson to five to 10 years in the custody of the Wyoming Department of Corrections, with credit of time served, 231 days.
Like any other day
Nickelson wore a gray sports jacket over a blue buttoned-up shirt to the 75-minute hearing. But the handcuffs around his wrists served as a reminder that he was still in custody of the Fremont County Detention Center, where he has been held on a $1 million bond since his arrest the evening of Sept. 13.
Sitting at the witness stand, Nickelson answered questions posed by his attorney, Stephen Palmer of Lander, detailing the night he shot and killed Myhre, a man he had not met prior to that evening.
Like any other, the day started out for him with a shift at Burger King. Nickelson was the restaurant's general manager.
After clocking out between 5 and 5:30 p.m., he said he went to Woodward's and purchased three 40-ounce bottles of beer and went home to the apartment he shared with his fiancee, Amber McIntyre, at 811 E. Adams Ave.
Nickelson recalled showering and eating before sitting down to play video games. The first knock at the door, around 9 p.m., he said was quiet enough that only McIntyre heard it. But after the second knock, Nickelson said he grabbed his SAR .45 caliber semi-automatic pistol and answered.
"It was night and I always answered my door with a gun," he said, explaining recent break-ins and suspicious people in the area.
"I held the gun at my side," Nickelson continued. "I never answered my door pointing my gun."
He remembered telling the man, later identified as Myhre, that he had the wrong apartment. Nickelson said Myhre, whom he described as acting "not acting right," repeatedly questioned why Nickelson answered his door with a gun, before growing angry and saying he wanted to fight.
Nickelson said he slammed the door shut and locked it.
With no peephole to look out of or a porch light to help his view, Nickelson said he waited five minutes before opening the door to see if anyone was outside. He checked with his neighbors, including a female, asking if anyone knew Myhre.
Nickelson, who was still carrying his pistol, said Myhre exited a bedroom at the female's residence, came at Nickelson and pushed him off the front porch.
The female grabbed Myhre, and Nickelson went home.
According to court documents, Myhre went outside to speak with three people who had been waiting for him in a vehicle. He reportedly told the occupants about his encounter with Nickelson and asked if they wanted to see "a guy get beat up."
Nickelson testified that minutes after returning home there was a knock at his door.
Hearing what he described as a "light" knock, he thought it was the female neighbor and answered.
But it was Myhre, who began asking Nickelson if he wanted to go outside to fight and that it was "messed up" he answered his door with a gun.
"He was standing in my doorway egging me on," Nickelson continued, adding something about Myhre "wasn't right."
He then said Myhre "came at him," and Nickelson shot him.
"There was a lot of ringing," Nickelson said, describing the sound of the shots. "I thought I shot four or five times."
Autopsy reports showed that Myhre was under the influence of methamphetamine at the time of his death. The autopsy also determined that seven bullets had struck Myhre's body, causing 18 wounds to his head, arms, shoulder, back, thigh and body cavity.
Nickelson testified unloading his gun and setting it on his couch while McIntyre searched for her phone to call the police.
"I didn't think I killed him," Nickelson told the court.
Law enforcement aspiration
Before taking his seat at the defense table, Nickelson testified he wanted to be a police officer.
"I can't anymore," he said, adding he hopes to earn his GED while in prison. "I want to try to pick up my life again."
McIntyre spent a few minutes at the stand and provided testimony corroborating Nickelson's statements and describing his character.
"Ever since I met Dustin, he's been a gentleman and friendly and nice to everyone he meets," she said.
She recalled consoling him after the shooting, which she witnessed from a beanbag chair a foot away.
"He was just as scared as I was," she said. "I was trying to comfort him because he looked so scared, and all I could say was that it was going to be OK."
Nickelson's aunt, Dixie Lee Realing, also shared a few words about his character.
"I don't want to see him go to prison," she said. "He's too kind; it worries me."
LaNae Myhre, however, felt differently about the man who killed her son, leaving behind four children.
"Lucas has had his share of trials and tribulations throughout his life, but he never gave up," she said. "Anyone who knew Luke knew that he had a huge heart. ... Luke was harmless."
She said Nickelson acted hostile and aggressive toward her son that evening.
"I feel incredibly sad of Mr. Nickelson's actions and my son's actions," she said.
LeBrun said just because Myhre did "certain things" that evening did not mean Nickelson needed to kill him.
"Lucas was not perfect, but Dustin Nickelson did not need to kill him in September, and there has to be punishment associated with that," he said.
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