Infamous Mont. 'mountain man' denied parole

Notorious man abducted a world-class athlete in 1984 to keep as a wife for his son

By Matt Gouras
Associated Press

DEER LODGE, Mont. — 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, and then shot her and left her to die during a rescue attempt.

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, her father, plus testimony from former and current law enforcement officials. Board members then huddled for a few seconds before denying Nichols' parole.

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.

His 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 Associated Press

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