The third day in the trial of Jason Nichols yielded testimony by Department of Commerce Secretary Nick Jordan, Undersheriff John Andrews, Caitlin Moser, the mother of Jason’s child, and evidence showing that Nichols anticipated going to prison for the alleged kidnapping of Chief Judge Wendel Wurst of the 25th Judicial District at his home in May of 2016.
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 on May 31, 2016.
Each count of terrorism carries a potential life sentence.
Andrews continued testimony on Thursday that was cut short during Wednesday’s proceedings.
Andrews was appointed crisis negotiator during the alleged kidnapping incident. That was due to a rapport he established with Nichols during a conversation held at the Law Enforcement Center following a phone call made by Nichols to Finney County Sheriff Kevin Bascue.
Garden City-based Special Agent Robin Smith of the FBI testified on Tuesday that Nichols told law enforcement there “would be problems” if local or federal agents ventured onto his property to seize his assets to satisfy a tax debt claim by the Kansas Department of Revenue.
The subsequent conversation at the LEC on March 12, 2015, between Nichols, Andrews, Smith and Lt. Ted Ortiz of the Finney County Sheriff’s Office Patrol Division involved expressed concerns by Nichols that his due process was being violated and that a KDR tax warrant against him was illegitimate.
Recordings of phone conversations between Andrews and Nichols on the day of Wurst’s alleged kidnapping captured Nichols’ grasp of the severity of the situation.
“Why are we here, Jason?” Andrews asked in one of the recordings. “I am here because this could be my last stand on Earth,” Nichols responded.
Nichols had indicated to law enforcement that nobody should attempt to enter Wurst’s home until his desires were met. Nichols demanded answers regarding the origin of the KDR’s tax warrant and subsequent garnishments, which he said he had been unable to get on his own and was using Wurst in an effort to do so.
He also requested a signed copy of the tax warrant that had authorized the garnishment of his wages, a sworn affidavit giving probable cause for the confiscation of his assets, and a conference call “maybe” involving Kansas officials Gov. Sam Brownback, Attorney General Derek Schmidt, KDR Chief Compliance Enforcement Officer Jeff Scott and Special Agent Smith.
When asked what Nichols would want after his demands were arranged, he said, “I would like to be convicted first of all,” meaning he wanted the state to find him guilty through criminal proceedings of failure to pay his taxes, thus giving him the proof he desired.
Andrews eventually arranged a conversation between Nichols, Wurst and Nick Jordan, then the secretary of revenue and the current secretary of commerce, as well as two of Jordan’s lawyers.
Jordan traveled from Topeka to testify on Thursday. Assistant Kansas Attorney General Jessica Domme played a separate recording of their conversation, which also took place over the phone on the day of Wurst’s alleged kidnapping.
In the recording, Wurst asked Jordan’s attorney why Nichols’ tax liabilities were so high in 2007, 2008, 2009 and 2011, and if W2s were the primary documents used to generate returns. Nichols claims that in 2009 he was working in North Carolina and spent no time working in Kansas.
The KDR attorneys explained to Wurst that garnishments are issued based on tax warrants and determined by the findings of a mailed tax assessment. They added that filing tax returns helps to reduce tax liability, a practice Nichols has expressly avoided.
It was also explained that Nichols could contest the findings of the tax assessment through a tax abatement petition filed through the Board of Tax Appeals. The attorneys said the tax assessment would have been accompanied by a notice informing Nichols of the opportunity to appeal, “assuming we sent it to the correct address,” the attorney said in the recording.
Jordan testified that Nichols did not attempt to effect a change in policy during their joint conversation. 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 a unit of government.
Nichols’ alleged kidnapping victim, Wurst, is Chief Judge of the 25th Judicial District.
It also was later testified by Travis Stoppel, a technical trooper with the Kansas Highway Patrol, that the Wurst incident drew the presence of 23 patrolmen, three of which were local, and others who traveled from other parts of the state. The same incident required almost every resource at the disposal of the Garden City Police Department, according to testimony on Wednesday by Patrol Sergeant E.J. Ochs.
Domme played a second video of Wurst’s alleged kidnapping, captured by a device embedded in Nichols’ watch. The video portrayed moments before and after those depicted in the video shown on Wednesday, such as Nichols knocking first on the door of Deanna Berry, next-door neighbor to the Wursts and executive director of Russell Child Development Center.
Nichols had seemingly staked out Berry’s house by mistake in his white pickup the day prior, according to testimony on Wednesday by neighbors.
The video also showed Nichols placing the Wursts under what he considered to be citizen’s arrest. He said after binding Wurst that, “I have never done this before,” and that he was “a little nervous, a little scared.”
“Ma’am, your husband is not in any danger, but my liberties are,” Nichols said in the video.
He also asked Mrs. Wurst in the video if Judge Wurst required any medications, and later told Mrs. Wurst that she had no reason to remain in the house.
In the latter portion of the video, Wurst spent extended periods of time in an ostensible state of repose, with his hands resting behind his head after the plastic zip ties that had previously bound him were cut.
Testimony by Caitlin Moser, the mother of Nichols’ son, focused on a letter Nichols had a relative deliver to Moser that contained the last of his money — $729. He also left her a cellphone with images of their son when he was a newborn.
In the letter, written before the alleged kidnapping, Nichols states, “I refuse to live another day of economic slavery. I’ve done a lot of things that I’m not proud of, but I will never be ashamed for defending my liberties, because without them I’m nothing ...”
Moser cried as she read the letter on the witness stand for the prosecution.
Nichols had stated in a previous unrelated court hearing that the tax garnishments issued by the KDR had limited his ability to pay his child support. Nichols told GCPD Detective Freddie Strawder in an interview after his apprehension that he was homeless, had no mailing address and no working phone.
“Lock me up for the rest of my life,” Nichols told Strawder during the taped interview. “Because in a society that doesn’t respect our basic liberties, I can’t function in it. I’m not going to survive in it.”
Other witnesses called included Kansas Bureau of Investigation Special Agent and former GCPD Police Chief James Hawkins; GCPD Detective Larry Watson; GCPD Detective Clint Brock; and Gina Nichols, mother of Jason Nichols.
The trial was scheduled to resume today at 8:30 a.m.