DRIGGS — Nancy Nalley wasn’t in the courtroom Thursday, but her brother John sat in the front row Skyping with her through his phone on the first day of a two-day sentencing hearing for Erik Ohlson.
John Niendorf, who was the first 911 call the night that Nancy’s daughter was shot, tucked his arm under his elbow to steady the camera aimed at Ohlson as he made his way into the courtroom.
Ohlson, a Jackson, Wyo., resident, pleaded guilty in February to felony first-degree murder in the 2016 killing of Driggs resident Jennifer Nalley, Nancy’s daughter. Ohlson accepted a plea deal that took the death penalty off the table.
Ohlson was arrested July 5, 2016, after he crashed his truck into an electrical pole on 2500 North, just three miles from Nalley’s cabin in Driggs where she lay dead from eight gunshot wounds suffered that same night, according to the Teton County Coroner’s report. She was about 12 weeks pregnant at the time. Ohlson was arrested for a DUI and later confessed to killing Nalley. However, his confession was thrown out after the court determined that the Idaho State Police failed to provide legal counsel to Ohlson during the interrogation.
Ohlson entered the Teton County Courtroom at 10:13 a.m. on Thursday flanked by his defense attorneys Jim Archibald and John Thomas. The courtroom was full, with members of the Jackson Hole Roller Derby team of which Nalley was a member. Behind them sat members of Ohlson’s family including his mother.
Others in the courtroom Thursday morning included friends and neighbors of Nalley’s and staff from Family Safety Network, a local organization supporting people who are victims of domestic violence and sexual assault. Idaho State Police and the Teton County Sheriff’s Office stood guard in front of the double doors into the courtroom, while Teton County Sheriff Tony Liford took a seat directly behind the defendant and another deputy just to the right of the table.
Heading into the sentencing, Ohlson’s defense filed several objections to the pre-sentencing report, a document that the judge will use to help determine the weight of the sentencing. Ohlson’s defense also filed a brief Wednesday prior to the Thursday hearing which largely outlined a positive portrait of Ohlson. The brief also explained Ohlson’s challenges in life including growing up with a father who was an alcoholic and he himself falling into the same pattern later in life. In the brief, the defense asked the court to consider a minimum sentence of 10 years in prison given this was Ohlson’s first felony offense.
The Teton County Prosecutor’s Office is seeking life in prison.
On Thursday the defense renewed its request for a new pre-sentencing report just as they had asked for last week in another motion before the court. The defense argued, “Taken in its entirety, the pre-sentence report appears to have been based, at least in part, on inaccurate and/or biased information. Nor does the writer provide sufficient information for her conclusions. As such, the PSR as a whole violates Mr. Ohlson’s constitutional rights to due process, notice, and a fair and reliable sentencing proceeding.”
Judge Bruce Pickett disagreed and sided with the state.
“The court has gone above and beyond considering the nature of the state,” said Judge Pickett. “The court is familiar with the facts and in light of that the court feels like it’s in a good position. The court has the obligation to put the weight on things that the court feels are important. The court finds no due process violations.”
Pickett did approve of the defense’s request that letters from Nalley’s friends and family not be attached to the PSI, but could be entered into the record Friday.
Additionally, the defense asked that the victim impact statement, which would be shown via a pre-recorded video of Nalley’s mother and father, be limited to only the victims. The video, said Teton County Prosecutor Billie Siddoway, contained footage of Nancy reading letters from Jennifer’s friends. The defense said this was outside the scope of an impact statement.
While the state was not outside of the scope of what the law allows with regard to the victim impact statement, Pickett sided with the defense and asked the prosecutor to edit the video prior to Friday’s court date taking out the parts of the video that included Nancy reading the letters.
Sentencing will continue at 9 a.m. Friday when the defense and state will call witnesses to the stand and the amended victim impact video will be shown prior to the judge’s sentence ruling.