Chief Judge Wendel Wurst of Kansas’ 25th Judicial District testified in the trial of Jason Nichols on Wednesday regarding the circumstances involving his alleged kidnapping by Nichols at his home in May of 2016.
Wurst was the fourth of eight witnesses called by the State’s prosecution, represented by Assistant Attorney General Jessica Domme on Wednesday. During his testimony, Wurst detailed the incidents leading up to his alleged kidnapping on May 31, 2016, as well as the alleged kidnapping itself. Wurst’s testimony was augmented by video evidence depicting a portion of the alleged kidnapping, obtained by the prosecution and originally captured by Nichols, 34, as part of what he considered a citizen’s arrest.
Nichols is charged with two counts of terrorism, two counts of kidnapping, one count of aggravated burglary, two counts of aggravated assault and one count of criminal threat for allegedly taking Wurst hostage at gunpoint at his home for nearly six hours.
Each count of terrorism carries a potential life sentence.
Though Wurst couldn’t remember the precise date of a conversation with Nichols held prior to the kidnapping, he testified that in courtroom 304 of the Finney County Courthouse Nichols waited for a hearing to end before telling Wurst he had come for a hearing on garnishment of his wages.
Wurst said he told Nichols in a casual manner that the procedure for contesting wage garnishment or determining if financial assets are exempt from garnishment could be found in Chapter 60 of Kansas’ statutes.
At the time, Wurst thought nothing of it. He said Nichols had grown up alongside his two sons and that Nichols’ brother was a good friend of his son, Wyatt. Nichols also was well known at the time due to his success in high school wrestling, which won him state championships in 2000 and 2001 while at Garden City High School.
But in May of 2016, Nichols allegedly visited Wurst’s home in Amir Circle shortly before 7 a.m. — wearing a shoulder holster and armed with a copy of the U.S. Constitution, a knife, a .45-caliber handgun, cigarettes, a camcorder and a bag of bottled water.
He planned to place Wurst under citizen’s arrest for perjury, because Wurst had signed a document that did not exempt a portion of Nichols’ wages from tax garnishment. Nichols felt the Kansas Department of Revenue was stealing his money, and that Wurst had effectively given them permission to do so.
Nichols had apparently misunderstood what Wurst had signed and interpreted the signature as a permission slip to steal from him. Wurst is not required to sign anything for law enforcement to seize assets to satisfy a tax debt.
Wurst testified that he had to dress himself to open the door that morning, and that Nichols greeted him by producing a pistol from a holster on his left side and telling him to “step back,” before entering his home and closing the door behind him.
After Nichols had Wurst lie down on the ground and tied his hands behind his back with plastic zip ties, Rhonda Wurst found the two in the foyer, Wurst testified. “This is Jason Nichols,” he told her. Nichols informed the two of them that he was conducting a citizen’s arrest. Mrs. Wurst asked him if they should relocate to the Law Enforcement Center.
But instead of going there, Judge Wurst testified, the two moved into the basement where there was an available computer and a cellphone belonging to Wurst. It was there that Nichols allegedly coerced Wurst into reviewing statutes pertaining to forfeiture of assets. Wurst said he tried to explain that in his legal opinion the forfeiture laws in question were irrelevant to his situation.
Domme then played the video captured by Nichols of that morning’s events. The video showed a bound Wurst seated at a table in his basement while Nichols repeatedly asked questions involving the statutes laid out before them. Meanwhile, a panicked Mrs. Wurst moved about freely in the background. She eventually stepped outside of the residence, where law enforcement officials insisted that she leave the premises.
In the 78-minute video, Nichols continues to probe Wurst for information while occasionally wearing a white felt Homburg hat and periodically feeding Wurst the bottled water he had brought with him.
Addressing Nichols’ claims that he was not afforded due process through a hearing before his wages were garnished, Wurst attempted to explain the nuanced differences between civil and criminal cases, which do not warrant the same judicial protocol.
The video depicted Wurst complying with Nichols’ demands, talking with him conversationally and gradually infusing a certain degree of levity into the environment. The two men began to talk candidly about subjects ranging from legal decisions to their mutual role as fathers, to the significance of Memorial Day — that men died “protecting our liberties,” Nichols said on the video.
Nichols stated in the video that his issue was with whoever “signed off” on the theft of his property without “any probable cause” and infringed upon his rights under the U.S. Constitution, namely the Fourth Amendment forbidding unreasonable searches and seizures and warrants without probable cause.
Though the video abruptly ended because the camcorder had lost power, Wurst testified that Nichols eventually cut his bindings with a knife and allowed him to retrieve a deck of cards from the upstairs area of the house unsupervised. Wurst said he wanted to help Nichols sort out whatever issues he was having with the KDR, just as he had promised, and that he did not intend to leave.
He also said Nichols unloaded the pistol’s magazine and set it down on the table. They attempted to watch TV together, but law enforcement had already arranged for the service to be disconnected. Authorities were prepared to disconnect the home’s electricity as well, according to later testimony by Patrol Sergeant E.J. Ochs.
According to McConnell, Nichols recorded a separate video from a device on his watch that has not yet been seen by the court.
Wurst told McConnell during cross-examination that he does not recall an effort by Nichols to change policy on a government level, the general basis of his terrorism charges, but that he did seem to have a problem with the way Wurst carried out his duties as a judge.
Kansas law defines terrorism to include the commission of a felony with intent to influence government policy by intimidation or coercion or with the intent to affect the operation of any unit of government.
Wurst has testified before that he doesn’t consider Nichols a “terrorist,” and on Wednesday he testified during cross-examination that holds to that assessment in “the colloquial sense of the word.”
When asked by Domme what he meant by “colloquial,” Wurst said, “He’s not like Osama Bin Laden, but Rhonda and I were terrorized.”
Other witnesses called included John Schmidt, general manager of Weathercraft Roofing, a former employer of Nichols; Ross Porter, a neighbor of Wursts; Deanna Berry; executive director of Russell Child Development Center and another neighbor of the Wursts; E.J. Ochs, a patrol sergeant with the Garden City Police Department; Emily Relph, a master patrol officer with the GCPD; David Wheet, a sergeant in the GCPD patrol division; and Finney County Undersheriff John Andrews.
The trial was scheduled to resume today at 8:30 a.m.