A Columbia police detective all but called murder defendant Donald Nickens a liar Thursday morning in almost three hours of testimony as the prosecution finished presenting its case against Nickens in the November slaying of a Holts Summit man.
The detective, John Short, said he simply did not believe Nickens’ story that he was acting in self-defense when he fought with 37-year-old Chris Byers after a night of drinking and driving around Boone County.
“You’re right, I didn’t buy it,” Short said, in response to cross-examination by Nickens’ public defender, Kevin O’Brien.
Nickens, 31, is charged with second-degree murder and armed criminal action in Byers’ death.
The day after Byers’ body was found in a ditch in a north Columbia neighborhood, Short interrogated Nickens and Dana Tennyson, who was in the car that night with Byers and another woman, Jennifer Bell. Tennyson testified Wednesday.
Short’s testimony lasted much of the morning before Boone County Prosecutor Dan Knight rested his case at midday. The defense began presenting its case when the trial resumed an hour later.
During opening statements Wednesday, Knight described the night that Nickens and Byers met at The Upper Deck, a bar at 5951 N. Wagon Trail Road. After a night of heavy drinking, the two men and two women left the bar and drove around Boone County in Byers’ car. Nickens and Byers began fighting and got out of the car on Blackfoot Road.
Knight argued that after beating Byers with a chunk of concrete until he was unconscious, Nickens and Bell stripped off his clothes, leaving only his socks, and put him in the trunk of the car, where he later died.
During the interrogation after his arrest, Nickens told Short he was acting in self-defense and that he was not responsible for the murder.
“I did not strike him once,” Nickens said during a lengthy video clip of the interrogation played for the jury. “He was on top of me, beating me.”
Later in the clip, Nickens says, “I don’t know why I’m charged for the murder.”
Knight asked Short whether he saw any injuries on Nickens during the interrogation.
“He claimed to me that he had several injuries,” Short said. “He said something to the effect that he was beaten within an inch of his life.”
Knight then showed the jury several pictures of Nickens taken at the time of the interrogation and asked Short to describe them. Short described swelling over Nickens’ left eye, a knot near the base of his head and cuts on his knuckles and left palm.
Short also said that Nickens claimed Byers climbed on top of him and was hitting him in the face. Knight then asked Short if he saw any injuries besides the swelling above the eye.
“I see no bruises or swelling,” Short said.
Later in his questioning, Knight asked Short about part of the night when Nickens stopped at the FastLane Convenience Store, 1013 N. West Blvd.
“What did he admit to you that he had on his hands at FastLane?” he asked.
“Blood,” Short said.
“Whose blood?” Knight asked.
“The victim’s blood,” Short replied.
Knight also highlighted the testimony of 43-year-old Tennyson, who said Wednesday morning that Nickens was responsible for the murder.
Tennyson “consistently maintained that who was responsible for this murder?” Knight asked.
“The defendant,” Short replied.
During cross-examination, O’Brien pressed Short about Nickens’ injuries.
“You’re not a doctor,” O’Brien said. “You really don’t know what the injuries were, do you?”
O’Brien showed the jury several larger photos of Nickens that highlighted specific injuries. O’Brien also asked Short to describe a defense wound, implying that injuries on Nickens’ palm could have been the result of him blocking blows.
O’Brien played clips of Short’s interrogation of Tennyson, attempting to show that she changed her testimony to avoid arrest.
“We’ve gotta make sure that Donald gets convicted,” Short is heard saying in the video. A second clip showed Short telling Tennyson, “The first one to talk is the first one to walk, OK?”
Defense attorneys began calling witnesses when the trial resumed at 1 p.m.