Murder victim ‘vulnerable’

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The Kalispell man who was murdered last week was using medical marijuana to wean himself off prescription drugs, and the suspects in the killing allegedly had been stealing his pills for the last couple of months, a friend of the victim said Monday.

Wesley Collins, 49, was beaten to death sometime last week; his body was discovered by Kalispell Police in a remote wooded area southwest of Kalispell on Saturday.

“I met Wesley about eight to 10 months ago and I’m his medical marijuana provider,” Robert Cates said. “When I first met Wesley he was taking a lot of pills.”

Cates said the suspects who were arrested — Robert Lake, 21, and Jeffrey Nixon, 19 — had been visiting Collins frequently. A third man was initially detained by Kalispell Police, but later was released.

“It had nothing to do with medical marijuana,” Cates said. “They had been ripping him off every day pretty much for two months ... the main reasons these kids were there was for his pain medicine.”

Cates said he was helping wean Collins from prescription-drug use for pain associated from injuries he sustained in a car crash.

“He was very vulnerable and he was a very gentle man,” Cates said. “He had a severe brain injury and he had his hip replaced and knee surgeries.”

Cates said he was one of the first people to realize that Collins was missing last week when he didn’t show up for a planned visit at Cates’ house on Tuesday. Police conducted a welfare check for Collins on Wednesday, but he wasn’t at his apartment in northwest Kalispell.

Cates was outside Collins’ apartment on Thursday with investigating officers when neighboring tenants shouted out, warning them that someone was jumping out the apartment’s back window. Cates said he ran one way around the building and officers ran the other way.

Two men were apprehended, and Cates said he believes Lake was one of them.

Kalispell Police Chief Roger Nasset elaborated on the department’s investigation of the alleged crimes Monday.

“It involved marijuana, money and other belongings,” he said, adding that the precise motives for the robbery and murder are still being investigated.

“We have several stories for what the robbery was about,” Nasset said.

The crime has stirred up a defensive reaction from medical-marijuana advocates who don’t believe that marijuana was involved.

Nasset said it is part of the equation.

“In this matter there is no disputing that marijuana was being used at the time of the homicide and that the marijuana being used was medical marijuana,” he said, later adding, “I think it’s unfortunate that this is being turned into a medical-marijuana issue. A human being lost his life, and that’s the important thing here.”

Nasset said the two suspects are believed to be associated with a well-known gang that revolves around the rap metal duo called Insane Clown Posse.

“That is one of the things that has been revealed by our investigation,” he said.

Lake was arrested early last November for allegedly stealing a cell phone from a nurse at Kalispell Regional Medical Center, and he was subsequently charged with robbing an Evergreen casino using a can of pepper spray that he used on an employee and four patrons.

The Flathead County Attorney’s Office said Lake eventually was released on “informal house arrest” and is scheduled to go on trial June 7 for the casino robbery.

Cates said he is deeply troubled by Collins’ murder. “He was a very good friend of mine and a very vulnerable person.”

Cates said he believes prescription drugs are the main drug problem in the Flathead Valley and they are causing other types of crimes.

Neither Lake nor Nixon have yet made their initial court appearances.

Reporter Jim Mann may be reached at 758-4407 or by e-mail at jmann@dailyinterlake.com

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