Man’s new murder plea is ‘not guilty’

Tuesday, July 10, 2007 | 2:00 a.m. CDT; updated 12:33 p.m. CDT, Saturday, July 19, 2008

A Columbia man accused of crushing a man’s skull with a rock appeared before a Boone County judge Monday afternoon for the first time since withdrawing his guilty plea in the case.

Donald Nickens, 30, was charged with second-degree murder and armed criminal action. Monday, he pleaded not guilty to the charges.

Columbia police said Nickens killed Chris Byers, 37, during a fight in November 2006 in northern Boone County. Nickens then drove around the county with Byers in the trunk of his car while the injured man tried to escape, according to police. Nickens dumped Byers’ body in a ditch along Woodridge Drive, police said, and threatened to kill two witnesses who were in the car if they told anyone what had happened.

Nickens pleaded guilty to the crime in May and was scheduled to be sentenced on June 25.

But on June 11, he withdrew his guilty plea and requested a trial.

Under a plea agreement, Nickens would have been charged with voluntary manslaughter instead of second-degree murder and faced 30 years in prison instead of a life sentence, Boone County Prosecuting Attorney Dan Knight told the Missourian last month.

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