Judge declares mistrial as jury deadlocks

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Ryan Lamb talks with his public defender Alisha Backus during the eight-day deliberate homicide trial. (Brenda Ahearn/Daily Inter Lake)

In a stunning conclusion in the murder trial of a Northwest Montana man accused of killing his boyfriend last summer, Flathead County District Court Judge Robert Allison declared a mistrial late Friday after learning the jury was deadlocked.

Ryan Cody Lamb, 35, faced one felony count of deliberate homicide in the death of Ryan Nixon in August 2018. Prosecutors said Nixon died of three stab wounds from a pair of scissors allegedly wielded by Lamb during a sexual encounter at a Two Mile Drive apartment Aug. 5, 2018.

Following two days of deliberations, the jury foreman said the group of eight women and four men were was deadlocked late Friday afternoon, prompting Allison to declare a mistrial. A court hearing was scheduled for 9 a.m., Thursday, July 11, to determine how the case will proceed.

In addition, the jury foreman said progress had been made after an informal vote Thursday indicated eight were voting not guilty and four for guilty. Friday, 11 jurors had voted for not guilty.

According to the jury foreman, confusion about the jury instructions was a problem they couldn’t overcome.

“We’re not lawyers,” he said. “We want definition of the instructions.”

“Unfortunately, the instructions are what they are,” the judge said. “Our hope is that common sense can help guide you through this.”

Lamb’s defense attorney, Flathead County Public Defender Alisha Backus, asked Allison for a judgment of acquittal, but he denied it. Backus said she was upset there wasn’t a verdict and that her client was hoping to go home today.

“He’s scared to do this all over again,” Backus said. “But we’re impressed that the jury got past the political agenda and the stereotypes. It was honorable that they could put it aside and I think the jury spoke clearly about how they felt about the evidence.”

Backus said the defense made several efforts to settle the case before it went to trial, but the county wasn’t interested.

Flathead County Attorney Travis Ahner said he appreciated the jury’s efforts.

“We’re thankful for their efforts,” Ahner said.

Prosecutors alleged that Lamb killed Nixon during “weird sex” in which Nixon had poked him with a fork in his chest in the early-morning hours of Aug. 5, 2018. But defense attorneys said Lamb acted in self defense because he feared for his life after the fork incident.

Reporter Scott Shindledecker may be reached at 758-4441 or sshindledecker@dailyinterlake.com.

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