Sean Nichols, who was involved in the Dec. 30, 2012, murder of Nancy Hershman, 68, Milan, pleaded guilty to burglary of a dwelling resulting in serious bodily injury, a Class A felony, Jan. 28, in Ripley Circuit Court.
Prosecuting attorney Ric Hertel questioned the 16-year-old (who was 15 at the time of the crime) extensively.
The Colerain Township, Cincinnati, resident admitted at the time of his arrest in January 2013, he was using up to 4 grams of marijuana each day, but he never did “any harder drugs.” He often got high with his older brother and friends, including Daniel Hodge, who allegedly was also involved in Hershman’s murder and also was 15 then.
Nichols said he knew Hodge, who used to live in Ripley County, but was then residing with his aunt and uncle in Cincinnati, since he was in fourth grade. His nickname was Dan-Dan.
The young man said he had purchased a .40-caliber Smith & Wesson semi-automatic gun (the weapon used in the murder) and ammunition (five bullets) from a friend for $95 and some marijuana. Prior to that, he had owned a revolver, but it was stolen. He revealed the gun was for protection, and he often carried the loaded weapon in his coat pocket. The defendant also noted that Hodge knew he owned the gun.
The teen met Allison Moore, who was 22 at the time, the night of Dec. 29, 2012. Around 10:30 that evening, Nichols recalled Hodge calling him on his cell phone and asking if he “wanted to hang out.” He agreed, and a short time later, Moore and Hodge picked him up, along with his brother, Ben, and friend, Corey.
They were in the car for about five minutes, and “Dan-Dan said something about going to Indiana. Me, Ben and Corey had a discussion and agreed we would go,” Nichols reported. Then “Dan-Dan asked me if I wanted to rob a drug dealer …. (and) I decided to do it.”
They ended up in what he described as a “subdivision with just a few houses with one streetlight (in Cross Plains) …. Dan-Dan gave directions to Allison,” who was driving. Nichols announced he wore a disguise, “a bandana up to my eyes and a sock hat …. Dan-Dan had made a mask out of a sock hat that had eye holes.”
Nichols revealed he was carrying the gun and along with Hodge went into the house. They ended up getting money and pot from a man there.
Hertel asked the defendant if he was worried about the man calling the police. He pointed out, “I was not worried because I was thinking, 'He’s a drug dealer. He’s not going to call the cops.'”
At that time, “Me and Dan-Dan wanted to go home …. But Allison wanted to stay. She wanted more money.”
The teen reported Hodge picked out the second house (in Ripley County), but they didn’t go inside because they knew the owner had guns, and “I said I wasn’t going to do it …. Dan-Dan broke into a car and got some money,” which he and Moore took.
Nichols reported the next stop was the Hershman house in Milan. Hodge told them he had dated someone there and his dad had done some construction work at the house.
“Allison, Dan-Dan and me got out of the car …. Allison felt we weren’t doing anything right. She had the gun …. There was a faint light in the window and the TV was on upstairs. Dan-Dan checked all the doors, but they were all locked. Allison decided to go in the side door, and Dan-Dan kicked it in.”
Nichols revealed Moore went in first, followed by Hodge and himself. By the time he got inside, “I heard a lady screaming and heard Allison saying, ‘Get on the floor’ …. The woman and Allison were pushing each other back and forth and Allison said, ‘Test me again.’ The woman said, 'What the hell?’
“We were in the home about a minute max before I heard and saw the gun go off. There was a big flash, and then I saw the lady drop …. I ran, and they followed me.
“As we were driving away, I said, ‘She shot her.’ Allison said, ‘I didn’t know I could shoot someone’ …. I thought she would have a little more remorse, but she didn’t.”
Nichols also said prior to the trio entering the last home, “Allison had one glove, and I had one glove on. She asked me for the glove.”
The defendant’s attorney, Ross Thomas, asked Nichols, “In hindsight, do you believe the whole reason of inviting you was because you had a gun?”
He responded, “Yes.”
Thomas pointed out, “He (Nichols) got off track. He has two good parents who work hard …. His co-defendants took advantage of his age.”
Nichols told the victim’s family members, “I’m very sorry. This should have never happened …. I plan to change as a person and no longer do any criminal activity.”
Elizabeth “Dawn” Evans addressed Nichols, saying, “My mother, Nancy Hershman, was involved in many community activities. Her faith in God led her to many outreach activities in her church …. Your choice took from me my confidant, my cheerleader … and my mother. My wish is you learn from your choices.”
The victim’s sister, Darlene Grace, also told Nichols, “I don’t believe you’re a bad person …. (but) you left a large hole in our family. She was good, kind and helped everybody. I feel sorry for your parents …. I hope you’ll become wiser and complete your education …. (and) someday maybe you can reach out to others and help them.”
Judge Carl Taul approved Nichols’ plea agreement, which ordered the state to dismiss all remaining counts. He has to pay fines and court costs and shall be incarcerated for 50 years, with 20 years suspended to probation, and shall receive credit for days served. Following his incarceration, he will be on reporting probation for 20 years and during that time, he shall not commit a criminal act or violate traffic laws. He will pay probation fees and shall have no contact with Hodge, Moore or the drug dealer.
Nichols also agreed to cooperate with law enforcement and the prosecutor’s office in the prosecutions of Moore and Hodge, which include providing complete and truthful testimony at any deposition, pretrial, plea hearing or trial.
Following the sentencing, a press conference was held. Hertel observed, "This is one more rung in the ladder to get some kind of justice for the family and citizens of Ripley County."
Evans pointed out, "My mom would have seen him as a scared, misguided young man .... She would have forgiven him .... (and) if she had realized what was really going on that night, she would have given them money from her purse."
Moore's trial is set for March 31, and Hodge's is scheduled for July 7 in Ripley Circuit Court.
Diane Raver can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or 812-934-4343, Ext. 114.