A long-running legal drama that has captured communities on both sides of Teton Pass concluded Friday with Erik Ohlson being sentenced to life in prison with the possibility of parole after 25 years.
Ohlson, who pleaded guilty in February to the July 2016 murder of Jennifer Nalley and to involuntary manslaughter for the fetus she was pregnant with, was given credit for nearly three years already served in prison. Teton County (Idaho) District Court Judge Bruce Pickett also ordered a minimum 10-year sentence for the involuntary manslaughter charge. The sentences are to be served concurrently.
Pickett heard witness testimony, a video impact statement from Nalley’s parents and closing arguments from lawyers on both sides.
“As I’ve sat here and listened, and took notes and prepared for today’s sentencing,” Pickett said in court, “I’ve thought about the multiple lives you ruined that night.”
Ohlson originally faced the death penalty for two counts of murder — one for Nalley and one for her unborn child. He was accused of driving to Nalley’s cabin in Driggs, Idaho, on July 5, 2016, and shooting her multiple times in the back before dropping the gun at the scene and fleeing. He was arrested on a DUI charge a few miles from Nalley’s cabin that night after crashing his truck into a power pole.
After public documents came to light in February that revealed Ohlson more or less admitted to the killing in a jailhouse phone call, his lawyers reached a plea agreement with the state of Idaho that took the death penalty off the table.
That deal, in which he pleaded guilty to one count of first-degree murder and one of involuntary manslaughter, came nearly three years after the killings. Nalley’s family had wanted a swift end to the case, rather than the protracted legal battle that occurred, but Jim Archibald, Ohlson’s lead attorney, said resolution had been impossible until the death penalty was taken off the table.
“As lead counsel, I cannot let a client plead guilty when he is facing the death penalty,” Archibald said early in his closing argument.
Later, Archibald’s voice cracked as he said, “I apologize to those I’ve offended; I don’t mean to offend, but I mean to do all I can in my responsibility and my obligation.”
The sentencing was a tale of opposing stories, one from the defense team, Archibald and John Thomas, who talked about a man reeling from a breakup and an unhealthy relationship. They also said Ohlson had been in the throes of alcoholism when he killed Nalley as they asked for a 10-year sentence, the minimum for first-degree murder.
Teton County (Idaho) Prosecuting Attorney Billie Siddoway, meanwhile, painted a picture of Ohlson as “immature, egocentric and irresponsible,” words pulled from an evaluation of him conducted while he was imprisoned. She asked the court for a sentence of at least 40 years before the possibility of parole, which would have effectively made it a life sentence, as he would be in his 80s before being able to apply for parole.
Pickett said he weighed the “mitigating and aggravating circumstances” in making his decision. In balancing the crime’s egregiousness with Ohlson’s lack of criminal history and compassionate family ready to support him should he receive parole, the judge settled on a sentence squarely in the middle of what the lawyers asked for.