Authorities will not pursue charges in the death of a 30-year-old Durango man who was shot and killed in August near the Colorado-New Mexico state line.
“Upon reviewing the investigation and evidence in the case, and after discussing thoroughly with the investigating officers from the La Plata County Sheriff’s Office, the District Attorney’s Office has determined that there is no reasonable likelihood of conviction in this case, and has thus declined to file charges,” 6th Judicial District Attorney Christian Champagne wrote in an email to The Durango Herald.
“The evidence clearly supported that the suspect was acting in self-defense, and there is insufficient evidence to the contrary that would justify bringing criminal charges,” he added.
La Plata County Sheriff’s Office deputies were contacted by a man and a woman during the early morning hours of Aug. 1 on the side of the southbound lane of U.S. Highway 550, just north of the New Mexico state line. The man, according to reports, had suffered a gunshot wound to the chest.
The man shot was identified as Johnathan Nichols. His time of death was listed as 1:30 a.m. Aug. 1, according to La Plata County Coroner Jann Smith.
The shooter was identified as Larry Cushman, who is from the Durango area.
At the time, the Sheriff’s Office said a person of interest had been detained but declined to release further details. Authorities over the past two months said Cushman was thought to have been acting out of self-defense.
Details of the case were ultimately handed over to the District Attorney’s Office, which made the decision not to file charges.
Champagne said evidence shows that Nichols and Cushman were involved in a physical altercation started by Nichols, who struck Cushman with an unknown object, possibly a large rock, which caused him severe injuries, including several broken ribs and a collapsed lung.
Cushman then drew a firearm and fired several times in Nichols’ direction, hitting Nichols once in the chest. Champagne said there were no other eyewitnesses to the crime, and Nichols did not make any known statements about the altercation before his death.
The altercation happened just outside Cushman’s home, which is in an area near Highway 550, Champagne said.
Smith said a toxicology test showed Nichols had drugs in his system, including methamphetamine and PCP.
“Our heartfelt condolences go out to the family of the victim, who lost his life during these tragic events,” Champagne wrote in the email to the Herald.
Nichols had worked at 4 Corners Roofing and Sheet Metal since 2012, Darren Tripp, manager of the company, said in a previous interview. Tripp said Nichols had just turned 30 years old.
“He was a really good kid,” Tripp said. “He was a good hand, a good worker.”
Tripp said Nichols was originally from Washington state and didn’t have family in the Durango area.
“He was very much a loner,” Tripp said. “He had a couple of dogs he loved that went everywhere with him. ... We were his family, basically. We all took care of each other.”