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Young Nichols Sentenced to 20 Years for Kidnapping

July 19, 1985

VIRGINIA CITY, Mont. (AP) _ ″Mountain man″ Dan Nichols was sentenced Friday to the maximum term of 20 years in prison for kidnapping a woman athlete and using a firearm during a felony.

State District Judge Frank Davis said Nichols, 20, had shown ″no real indication of any remorse″ for his part in the crimes and had displayed a ″subdued and benign arrogance and defiance″ throughout the case.

″There’s been tears shed in this courtroom, but not by the defendant,″ he said.

Nichols was sentenced to 10 years on the kidnapping charge, plus another 10 years for using a firearm in the commission of a felony.

A jury convicted Nichols in May of helping his father kidnap Kari Swenson, 23, of Bozeman, to serve as a female companion in their wilderness home. He also was convicted of misdemeanor assault for wounding her when searchers found the camp where she was held. He was acquitted in the death of one searcher, Alan Goldstein.

The father, Don Nichols, 54, was found guilty last week of deliberate homicide for shooting Goldstein, kidnapping, and aggravated assault for threatening a second searcher. He remains jailed pending sentencing next month.

The father and son, who had been living off the land in the Madison Range of southwestern Montana nearly a year before the incident last July, testified they kidnapped Swenson to be their wilderness companion. Don Nichols said he dreamed of having a tribe of mountain people living with him.

Davis declared the younger Nichols a dangerous offender, requiring him to serve at least 10 years before becoming eligible for parole. He also prohibited him from profiting from any sale of book or movie rights to his version of the highly publicized case.

In a plea earlier for probation, Nichols testified that he would pay restitution to the Goldstein family and Swenson from any money he made from selling his story.

Friday’s sentence was exactly what state prosecutor Marc Racicot had requested. Defense attorney Steven Ungar had requested a 10-year suspended sentence.

Racicot contended Nichols ″intended to enslave another human being″ when the kidnapping occurred July 15, 1984. The prosecutor said the younger man was his father’s partner in the crime and not an unwilling participant as the defense had suggested.

The debate should not be over whether he he was a ″good kidnapper or a bad kidnapper - he’s a ... kidnapper and he almost killed his victim,″ Racicot told Davis.

Swenson testified she is still in frequent pain from her wound and requires counseling and therapy to deal with memories of the incident.

She vividly recalled being wounded and left by the Nicholses for four hours until rescuers arrived. Insects attracted to her blood swarmed over her, but she was too weak to brush them away, she said.

″I thought I was going to die,″ Swenson said. ″I can’t understand why they did it. I can’t express how much anger I have.

″I have dreamed to be the best woman biathlete in the country and the world. I would love to have that dream now, but it’s far off. I don’t know if I’ll ever have that dream.″ Her sport combines cross-country skiing and riflery.

Earlier Friday, Nichols had said in a shaky voice: ″I’m sorry it (the kidnapping and shootings) took place and I’m glad Kari is still alive.″

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