Two mountain men, a father and his son, were arraigned on murder and kidnaping charges today, and now this sparsely populated community must deal with how to give them a fair trial.
Don Nichols, 53, and his son Dan, 21, pleaded not guilty to charges that they kidnaped and shot U.S. biathlon skier Kari Swenson on July 15 as she was jogging in the woods. Authorities have said that Don Nichols wanted her as wife for his son.
The Nicholses also pleaded not guilty to charges that they killed Alan Goldstein, 36, who attempted to rescue Swenson from their mountain camp.
No trial date was set.
The two mountain men were the subjects of an intense manhunt in the rugged Madison Mountains near the Big Sky ski resort where they allegedly kidnaped Swenson. For five months they wandered from one mountain camp to another, living off the land.
Last week a rancher saw smoke rising from trees on a hillside and tipped off authorities. On Thursday, Madison County Sheriff Johnny France hiked to the Nicholses' camp and captured them.
Virginia City is the small seat of Madison County, which is dotted with rugged mountains, scarred by rivers and populated mainly with ranchers. Many of the townfolk participated in the initial search for the Nicholses, and residents say it will be difficult to find anybody to sit on a jury who doesn't know extensively about the case.
As a result, Madison County District Court Judge Frank Davis issued a gag order after the Nicholses' arraignment, prohibiting anyone involved with the case from discussing it with news media.
The Nicholses were in poor condition when captured and had long hair and beards. Today they were cleanshaven and appeared to be in better health as eight sheriff's deputies escorted them into the courtroom. The Nicholses' attorneys asked the judge to set bail, but prosecutor Lauren Tucker protested that the Nicholses had eluded capture for five months. "We have had a noticeable lack of ability to even find these defendants, let alone keep track of them," he said.
Davis agreed and ordered the two held without bail and transferred to the Gallatin County jail in Bozeman. The Virginia City jail is one of the oldest in Montana and has only two cells