Infamous Montana 'Mountain Man' Denied ParoleDEER LODGE, Mont. (AP) — Montana officials on Friday rejected parole for a notorious "mountain man" who abducted a world-class athlete in 1984 to keep as a wife for his son, shot her during a rescue attempt and then left her to die.
By: Matt Gouras, Associated Press
DEER LODGE, Mont. (AP) — Montana officials on Friday rejected parole for a notorious "mountain man" who abducted a world-class athlete in 1984 to keep as a wife for his son, shot her during a rescue attempt and then left her to die.
The state Board of Pardons and Parole held its third parole hearing for Don Nichols as federal authorities search for his son Dan, accused earlier this month with new drug and gun crimes. During his 20-minute hearing, the 81-year-old Nichols expressed contempt for the board.
"I don't think you have the courage to stand up to the media no matter what I say," Nichols said in his only statement before he abruptly walked out with his prison escort.
The hearing included emotional testimony from kidnapping victim Kari Swenson, her husband and her father, plus testimony from former and current law enforcement officials. Board members then huddled for a few seconds before denying Nichols' parole.
"I think there is little chance that Mr. Nichols, with his attitude, is ever going to be suitable for parole," said board member Sam Lemaich.
The father-son duo made international headlines three decades ago when they abducted Swenson, a world-class biathlete, while she was on a training run in the mountains above the resort town of Big Sky. They then eluded police for five months after shooting her and killing a would-be rescuer, Alan Goldstein.
The pair, who had lived for long stretches in the mountains by poaching game and eating from makeshift gardens, evaded a prolonged manhunt by living in the remote wilderness northwest of Yellowstone National Park. Their habits prompted authorities to label them with a "mountain man" moniker they embraced.
Swenson, despite diminished lung capacity from the gunshot wound, went on to compete at a high level. The Bozeman veterinarian opposed parole for Nichols, writing in a recent letter to a Montana newspaper that he could again pair up with his son and harm others.
Swenson testified that she was upset she had to see Nichols, saying, "Now I'm going to have nightmares all over again." She said she believed releasing Nichols would be a huge risk and expressed anger that reporters were allowed in the hearing.
"I am mad I have to go through this every five years," she said.
The chairman of the board, Michael McKee, also expressed regret that they had to meet regularly to discuss the possibility of parole for Nichols.
"There are some crimes for some people who should never get out. Unfortunately, that's not the way the system works," McKee said.
Even though Nichols was denied parole, a day is taken off his 85-year sentence for each day he exhibits good behavior. At that rate, unless he is paroled, Nichols will be released on April 16, 2030, when he is 99.
The elder Nichols has blamed others — including Swenson — for the crime by arguing they were in the wrong place. In an apparent effort to minimize the crime in lengthy journals and manuscripts written shortly afterward, he said they only bound Swenson with a "lightweight" chain.
John Onstad, a former sheriff involved in the hunt for Nichols back in the 1980s, testified that Nichols is a "cold, calculating, anti-social individual."
No one spoke in favor of releasing Nichols, while many in the Bozeman community wrote to the board demanding parole be denied.
"There is no evidence in the record that this man should go back into civilization," said Swenson's father, Bob Swenson. "In his mind, he hates civilization."
The Montana attorney general's chief prosecutor, Brant Light, told the parole board the state opposes release for Nichols.
"Obviously, again, he is not remorseful," Light said. "He has taken no responsibility for his actions."
Nichols' son was indicted on federal charges last week, accused in a statewide marijuana distribution ring that netted nearly $1.8 million.
The younger Nichols was released in the early 1990s for his role in the Swenson crime. He has been on the run since he skipped out on relatively minor drug charges received at a rock concert last summer.
The U.S. Marshals have said the younger Nichols is considered very dangerous while on the run.
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.