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State of Montana v. Jeffrey Allen Nixon

March 26, 2013


APPEAL FROM: District Court of the Eleventh Judicial District, In and For the County of Flathead, Cause No. DC 10-137C Honorable Stewart E. Stadler, Presiding Judge

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Beth Baker

Submitted on Briefs: January 9, 2013

Decided: March 26, 2013



Justice Beth Baker delivered the Opinion of the Court.

¶1 Following a five-day trial in July 2011, a jury convicted Jeffrey Allen Nixon of accountability for deliberate homicide, robbery, tampering with physical evidence, and burglary-all felonies. Nixon appeals his conviction on the ground that the Montana Eleventh Judicial District Court, Flathead County, erred in denying his motion to suppress statements he made during a custodial interrogation. We affirm.


¶2 On April 17, 2010, Sergeant Jim Wardensky of the Kalispell Police Department responded to a report from Wesley Collins's landlord that his apartment had been burglarized. Police had been to the apartment the day before for a requested welfare check on Collins and had not found him. While Wardensky was investigating the break-in, by-standers told additional responding officers that two individuals were running out the back window of Collins's apartment. One officer chased the individuals and apprehended Robert Lake, who was taken into custody for questioning. Although Lake initially blamed Nixon for Collins's disappearance, within hours, Lake "had admitted to killing Mr. Collins and putting his body up in the Patrick Creek area." Lake made statements further implicating Nixon in the homicide and proceeded to show Wardensky where Collins's body was located.

¶3 In the early hours of April 18, Nixon's father was driving Nixon home from his older brother's bachelor party. During the party, which lasted approximately seven hours, Nixon estimated he consumed about ten drinks. On their way home, Nixon and his father were stopped by four law enforcement officers who, with weapons drawn, detained the two and then transported Nixon to the Kalispell Police Station for questioning.*fn1 An arresting officer informed Nixon during transport that he had been arrested on two outstanding misdemeanor warrants; he was not informed that he was the subject of a homicide investigation.

¶4 Nixon arrived at the police station at 4:30 a.m. and was given a copy of his outstanding warrants. All movements and statements he made at the station were videotaped by Kalispell police. At first, Nixon was left alone in the booking area of the station for approximately two hours, during which time he slept on a bench. Just prior to 7:00 a.m., Sergeant Wardensky woke Nixon up and began to interview him. Wardensky asked Nixon if he had been drinking; Nixon admitted that he had had "quite a bit" to drink. Wanting to ensure that Nixon was not incapacitated, Wardensky asked Nixon to provide a breath sample on a portable breath testing device. The test showed Nixon's blood alcohol content to be .08. Wardensky then told Nixon that what he would like to do is "visit with you a little bit about something that I've been looking at and working on, starting yesterday morning I guess." First, however, Wardensky asked Nixon a series of general questions about where he lived, the bachelor party he had attended, and his brother's impending wedding.

¶5 Wardensky then read Nixon his rights pursuant to Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436, 86 S. Ct. 1602 (1966), as provided on the Kalispell Police Department's "YOUR RIGHTS" form. The following dialogue occurred immediately after Wardensky read Nixon his rights:

NIXON: Just a slight question.


NIXON: Why did you ask me questions before you read me my rights?


NIXON: I was just curious.

WARDENSKY: Curious, and, and ah, I would be happy to answer that.

Because, uh, I wanted to see what your cognitive process is, ya know, and ah, given the fact that you've had a little bit to drink tonight, I wanted to see if, you know, if you could answer a few questions, and ah, you know, and see if things are cooking up seriously upstairs for ya. They seem to be, so. Okay does that answer that for ya?

NIXON: Yeah.

WARDENSKY: Okay, do you want to talk to me?

NIXON: There isn't really anything to talk about. WARDENSKY: Well, I've got a bunch.

NIXON: I'm tired. I've been up since six yesterday morning and I've been sitting here for a while. WARDENSKY: Well that's pretty ironic, so have I.

NIXON: Yeah, if I was you I would be home sleeping. WARDENSKY: Well, hopefully that'll be the case here shortly. NIXON: I sure hope so, I've got a wedding here in a couple of hours.

WARDENSKY: Yeah. So, you interested in talking with me Jeff? NIXON: I really don't have anything to talk about. I was told I was brought in here on traffic tickets, but one of 'ems a traffic ticket, the other one's a theft. I don't really have anything to talk about.

WARDENSKY: Okay. Well, there's a little more to it than that and that's what I would ...

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