MISSOULA — A self-described mountain man who with his father kidnapped an elite athlete in 1984 so he could have a “wife” pleaded not guilty to drug charges Thursday in federal court in Missoula.
The slight, balding defendant corrected U.S. Magistrate Jeremiah Lynch’s reading of his name — “It’s Dan Nichols,” he told Lynch, not Daniel James Nichols as listed on the indictment — but otherwise spoke little during the brief arraignment.
Nichols, 47, actually is named in two drug cases. In addition to the federal case — stemming from a series of federal raids at medical marijuana businesses around Montana last year, he was charged in state court after allegedly being found with marijuana and heroin at a music festival in Three Forks in August.
He failed to show up at a court hearing in that case and was considered a fugitive until Tuesday, when U.S. marshals and local law enforcement arrested him in Butte.
In the federal case, Nichols and two other defendants face conspiracy, manufacture of marijuana and weapons charges, among others. Eight of those charges name all three co-defendants, but one weapons charge singles out Nichols’ previous felony conviction and mentions he had a pistol, three rifles and 36 rounds of ammunition.
That previous felony conviction was for kidnapping Kari Swenson, a world-class biathlete who was on a training run near Big Sky when the Nicholses, carrying guns, confronted her and took her into the woods with them.
Dan Nichols shot and injured Swenson during a rescue attempt. His father killed one of the would-be rescuers. Dan Nichols was released from prison in the early 1990s. His father was denied parole last month on the 85-year sentence he’s serving in the case. Don Nichols is to be released from prison in 2030, when he’s 99.
Thursday, Dan Nichols’ public defender told the Associated Press he hopes his client’s past didn’t influence the charges.
“The only reason he’s getting more attention, it seems, is because of his past crime, and he has fully discharged that last sentence,” Chad Wright told the AP.
The most severe penalties on those charges include life in prison and a $5 million fine.