MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

Local News

March 2, 2012

Man convicted in shooting

Jury rejects defense blaming his medication

Jurors deliberated for two hours Thursday before finding a Wagoner man guilty of shooting an Arby’s employee in 2010.

Kenneth Lynn Nickel, 25, was found guilty of assault and battery with a deadly weapon. As the verdict was read, Nickel — who had been stoic through more than two days of testimony — lowered his head and placed his face in his hands.

If the judge accepts the jury’s sentence of seven years in prison, Nickel would have to serve almost six years — under the 85 percent rule — before he is eligible for parole. Nickel is to be sentenced at 9:30 a.m. May 2.

The victim, Jamie Harbison, called the verdict “closure” and said she was ready to move past the Sept. 28, 2010, shooting.

“I was terrified they were going to come back with a not guilty verdict, I really was,” Harbison said. “I’m very relieved that it’s over. It just goes to show you something as stupid as a text message argument can blow up out of control.”

Nickel and Harbison had argued over the phone for hours on the day of the shooting.

Nickel’s defense attempted to prove that Nickel had been improperly medicated in the weeks before the shooting. Defense witnesses testified that Nickel had been improperly diagnosed with depression and anxiety. Doctors had prescribed Effexor and Trazadone — common anti-depressants — to combat the depression, but later psychiatric testing showed Nickel suffered from bipolar disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder.  

Curtis Grundy, an expert witness for the defense, testified Wednesday that Effexor could cause homicidal thoughts if prescribed to someone who suffered from bipolar disorder. Grundy testified that Nickel, who stated his dosage of Effexor was doubled in the weeks before the shooting, “didn’t know the difference between right and wrong” when he shot Harbison through the arm.

The Effexor, Grundy testified, could have induced Nickel into a “psychotic break” in which he was unable to discern the consequences of his actions.

In his closing argument, Muskogee County District Attorney Larry Moore read some of the text messages sent between Nickel and Harbison, in which Nickel referred to himself as a “mental patient” and said he was “on suicide watch” and would shove Harbison’s “head in a deep freezer.”

At 2:33 p.m. on the day of the shooting, Nickel sent a text to Harbison that said: “I’m about to drop you.”

Approximately 30 minutes later, Nickel arrived at the Arby’s, chased Harbison into the back of the restaurant and put a gun to the back of her head.

“Does this sound like someone who can’t reason correctly?” Moore asked the jury.

“This is not a ‘whodunit’ or a ‘what happened.’ We know whodunit and what happened.”

In his closing statement, Nickel’s attorney Thomas Mortensen placed some blame on pharmaceutical companies who he claimed “play God” with the brain’s chemistry.

“If you’re playing God,” Mortensen said, “you better take responsibility for your actions.”

After Nickel was placed in handcuffs and taken back into custody, Mortensen spoke with members of Nickel’s family.

“Single digits, we were shooting for single digits,” Mortensen said, regarding the seven-year sentence Nickel received. “He drove 25 minutes and shot her; (the jurors) were not going to forgive him for that.”

Reach Dylan Goforth at (918) 684-2903 or dgoforth@muskogeephoenix.com.

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