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Columbia man withdraws guilty plea, requests trial

Tuesday, June 12, 2007 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 10:52 a.m. CDT, Thursday, July 17, 2008

Less than a month ago, a Columbia man pleaded guilty to killing a Holts Summit man while they were fighting in November. Monday afternoon he withdrew his guilty plea and asked for a trial.

Donald E. Nickens, 30, of Columbia, was charged Nov. 10 with second degree murder. He first pleaded guilty May 21 and was scheduled for sentencing on June 25.

Prosecuting Attorney Dan Knight said he didn’t know why Nickens withdrew the plea. Public Defender Kevin O’Brien, Nickens’ attorney, could not be reached for comment.

Knight said it’s not unheard of for a plea to be withdrawn.

“It happens every once in a while,” he said. “This isn’t the first time it’s happened.”

According to previous Missourian reports, Nickens was accused of crushing Chris C. Byers’ head with a rock. Police said Nickens then put Byers, 37, in the trunk of his car and drove around while the victim tried to escape. Nickens later dumped the body in a ditch along Woodridge Drive, police said, and told two women who witnessed the crime that he would kill them if they told anyone about it.

Knight said Nickens originally was charged with second degree murder, but under a plea bargain, he pleaded guilty to the charges of voluntary manslaughter and armed criminal action. Knight said that after the plea had been withdrawn, he asked that Nickens be tried on the original charge of second degree murder.

Nickens would have faced a maximum penalty of 30 years in prison for the charges he pleaded guilty to, serving 15 years for each charge, Knight said. The maximum penalty for second degree murder is life in prison.


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