MERCER — A Hermitage man who killed his roommate in 2017 will spend the rest of his life in prison.
Judge Daniel P. Wallace sentenced Dustin Nichols, 23, to life in prison without parole Friday for the first-degree murder of Olivia Gonzalez, 18, on Feb. 6, 2017. Nichols also was sentenced to a prison term of more than four months but less than 12 months to run concurrently with the life sentence for killing or maiming an animal.
Nichols and Olivia shared a home at 1609 Fairlawn Drive, Hermitage, before the incident.
On the night of the shooting, Nichols allegedly became so angry that he ripped a TV from the stand and hit Olivia’s cat with a glass marijuana bong, causing injuries to the animal. When Gonzalez took the cat from Nichols, police said he became angry and retrieved a shotgun and fired at Gonzalez four times at close range, then hit her in the head three times with the butt of the gun.
Nichols later told police he was under the influence of LSD and marijuana when he shot Gonzalez.
Before Wallace passed sentenced, members of Gonzalez’s family, including her grandmother, father, mother and sister read statements about Olivia and what it meant to lose her.
Gonzalez was Maila Smith’s first grandchild. She said she now will no longer be able to hug her, but will be reminded of her every time she looks at Sara and Charlie Gonzalez, Olivia’s brother and sister.
“Olivia always saw herself as a protector for her younger siblings. She even learned Brazilian jiu jitsu so she could be a better protector,” Smith said.
The family also thanked Assistant District Attorney David Wenger, the Hermitage Police Department and the jury for their role in prosecuting Nichols. However, Gonzalez’s father, Stephen, said he didn’t think Nichols’ life sentence was sufficient punishment.
“My daughter wasn’t afraid of you, and you knew it,” he said.
Nichols also made a brief statement, saying that he knew his words would not alleviate the anger or sadness of Gonzalez’s death. He said it was the drugs that caused him to commit the murder.
“I know if I didn’t take the acid that night, nothing would’ve happened,” Nichols said. “Not a day goes by that I don’t think about her or the people I hurt.”
Defense attorney Gary Gerson said he thought Nichols had a viable defense with voluntary intoxication, which argued that Nichols was too intoxicated to form the intent to commit the murder. Had the defense been successful, Nichols’ first-degree murder charge would have been reduced to third-degree murder.
“I’m disappointed in the verdict, but I believe the jury worked hard in this case. They were paying attention. They took notes, and they asked questions, so my feeling is they have spoken,” Gerson said.
Wenger said the family is planning to advocate for what they hope to call “Liv’s Law” in Gonzalez’s memory. The measure would prevent the voluntary intoxication defense from being used in similar cases.
Wenger said the sentencing will not be the end of the mourning and pain for the Gonzalez family.
“This is just one step in a long road to bring peace to the family,” he said. “Olivia was a young woman with a lot of things in life ahead of her, and Nichols executed her.”
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