The suspect in the shooting death of a Grant County man in December was secretly dating the victim’s girlfriend, court documents allege.
David E. Nickels, 29, is in jail on $5 million bond for a first-degree murder in connection with the Dec. 29 slaying of Sage J. Munro at Munro’s home in Ephrata.
The six-month investigation took detectives to six states before Nickels was arrested this week in his hometown of Helena, Mont.
That’s where investigators say he met Munro’s girlfriend, 21-year-old Marita Messick, more than five years ago. Nickels and Messick had a child together when Messick was 15, according to court documents filed this week in Grant County Superior Court.
Munro, 35, and Messick had been dating about seven months. Munro had a 13-year-old son and coached youth football.
When first interviewed, Messick told investigators Nickels was a jealous ex-boyfriend who harassed her and once called Munro and said they were still together.
“Messick said the harassment got to the point where she had to change her phone number because she was afraid of Nickels and thought he was crazy,” investigators wrote.
But police say Messick left out a key detail during that first interview – she’d been seeing Nickels without Munro’s knowledge. She later said “she was ashamed of the relationship,” and didn’t want to admit to it.
Court papers show Nickels was a suspect from the beginning. A team of detectives from across the Columbia Basin used cell phone records and witness interviews to track Nickels, who was described as having an extensive criminal history and was known to move frequently and drive different vehicles.
The break came June 16 when DNA found on a pair of handcuffs outside Munro’s home was determined to belong to Nickels, documents say.
“Literally thousands of hours and thousand of miles in multiple states and they were able to track that (guy) down,” said John Turley, Grant County undersheriff.
A Seattle attorney who spoke with detectives on Nickels’ behalf in February did not return a phone call seeking comment; his secretary said he wasn’t currently working the case.
Messick said she and Nickels met in Montana the week before Christmas but she left without saying goodbye to Nickels. That angered Nickels, Messick told investigators.
Along with Utah and South Dakota, detectives traveled to Colorado and interviewed Nickels’ mother, who said she learned of Munro’s death when Messick called “saying if her son had anything to do with the murder she would kill him.”
Nickels’ mother said her son was in Montana at the time of the shooting.
But cell phone records led detectives to a woman who said she met Nickels at a bar in Marbleton, Wyo., on Dec. 29 and he said “he was heading back from Washington state en route to Montana.,” according to court documents.
Investigators also spoke with an acquaintance of Messick’s who said he’d heard Nickels “bragging about shooting a boyfriend of hers” while drinking in a Helena bar.
The man told detectives “he kind of thought Nickels was joking up until he found out Messick’s boyfriend really was shot and killed.”
Investigators began tracing Nickels’ cell phone May 3, then traveled to Helena May 5 to obtain a warrant for Nickels’ DNA sample. They obtained the sample May 10 after Nickels was arrested on suspicion of diving on a suspended license.
On May 15, a confidential informant called detectives and said Nickels had told him he’d hired someone to kill Munro.
“The (informant) said Nickels told him he made a phone call and the boyfriend was dead the next day,” according to court documents.
Investigators, however, don’t believe the claim. On June 16, the state crime lab confirmed Nickel’s DNA was on handcuffs found at the murder scene.
Detectives made their final trip to Helena this week to pick him up.
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