Columbia man admits to killing drinking companion

Donald Nickens said he used a rock to crush the victim’s head.
Tuesday, May 22, 2007 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 12:22 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

A Columbia man pleaded guilty Monday to killing a drinking companion in a fight last year by crushing the man’s head with a rock. Police said the defendant drove around with the victim struggling to escape from the trunk of his car.

Donald E. Nickens, 30, pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter and armed criminal action in connection with the death of Chris C. Byers, 37, of Holt’s Summit. Nickens faces 30 years in prison, 15 years for each count.

“He admitted on record that he hit Chris on the head with the rock,” Boone County Prosecutor Dan Knight said after the hearing in Callaway County Circuit Court.

Byers’ fiancee shook and cried throughout the court hearing and said “I hope you die” to Nickens as he was led from the courtroom by a bailiff. She declined to talk to the media.

Knight and Nickens’ attorney, Public Defender Kevin O’Brien, both declined to comment further on the case until after the sentencing, which is scheduled for June 25 in Boone County Circuit Court.

Columbia police said Nickens and Byers, along with two women, spent the night of Nov. 9 drinking in Columbia bars and driving around Boone County. Nickens pulled over on Blackfoot Road when the two men began arguing early that morning and started to fight, police said. Nickens then struck Byers with a rock, fracturing his skull, police said.

The two women in the car told police that after the fight Nickens dumped Byers’ body in a ditch on Woodridge Drive in southeast Columbia after driving around with him in the trunk. The women said he also threatened to kill them if they talked to anyone about the incident.

Friends and family of Byers were present during the hearing but did not want to talk to the media.

Nickens was originally charged with second-degree murder and had been scheduled for trial on June 5.

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