April 27, 2012 in Region

Infamous Montana ‘mountain man’ denied parole

Associated Press
Associated Press photo

This 1985 photo shows self-described “mountain man” Don Nichols, who went to prison for kidnapping athlete Kari Swenson and murdering a would-be rescuer.
(Full-size photo)

DEER LODGE, Mont. — Montana officials have rejected parole for a notorious “mountain man” who abducted a world-class athlete in 1984 to keep as a wife for his son.

The Montana Board of Pardons and Parole made its decision today after Don Nichols told board members that they “don’t have the courage to stand up to the media.”

The 81-year-old Nichols then abruptly walked out of the hearing room with his prison escort.

It was Nichols’ third parole hearing as federal authorities search for his son Dan, accused earlier this month of new drug and gun crimes.

The father-son duo abducted biathlete Kari Swenson while she was on a run in the mountains above the resort town of Big Sky. They shot her and left her to die and killed a would-be rescuer.

The pair, who had lived for long stretches in the mountains by poaching game and eating from makeshift gardens, evaded a prolonged manhunt by living in the remote wilderness northwest of Yellowstone National Park. Their habits prompted authorities to label them with a “mountain man” moniker they embraced.

Swenson, despite diminished lung capacity from the gunshot wound, went on to compete at a high level. The Bozeman veterinarian opposed parole for Nichols, writing in a recent letter to a Montana newspaper that Nichols could again pair up with his son and harm others.

U.S. Marshals have said the younger Nichols is considered very dangerous while on the run. He first skipped out on relatively minor drug charges received at a rock concert last summer. Then a federal indictment released last week alleged the younger Nichols, released in the early 1990s for his role in the Swenson crime, and two other men were involved in a statewide marijuana distribution ring that netted nearly $1.8 million.

The elder Nichols is serving an 85-year prison sentence that could release him in 2030.

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