- Associated Press - Monday, January 5, 2015

HELENA, Mont. (AP) - The Montana Supreme Court has overturned the conviction of a Kalispell man who is serving a 40-year sentence for sexually assaulting and raping a 9-year-old girl.

The high court ruled on Dec. 30 that District Judge Ted Lympus allowed jurors to hear testimony about Thomas Richard Nichols’ sexual habits that was inflammatory, unfairly prejudicial and likely contributed to his November 2011 conviction.

Nichols objected to the questioning at trial. But it was overruled after prosecutors argued that defense counsel opened the door to the questioning when the defense attorney said Nichols had no reason to molest the girl because he had a healthy, active sex life with his girlfriend.

The girl reported Nichols assaulted her in February 2010. He was tried and convicted in November 2011.

Nichols appealed in March 2014, arguing that the details of his sex life were irrelevant and were admitted for the purposes of alienating the jury and obtaining a conviction in a weak case.

The state also argued the testimony of Nichols’ girlfriend, when compared to audio recordings of jailhouse conversations, helped jurors decide if she was testifying truthfully.

Justices found that testimony about Nichols’ seeking other sex partners or potential dominance over his girlfriend could have been explored without getting into specific details.

“The kind of evidence and testimony they elicited in that case was just outrageous and shouldn’t have been allowed - and the court rightly saw it that way,” Nichols’ appellate attorney, Gregory Birdsong of Missoula, said Monday.

Deputy Flathead County Attorney Travis Ahner couldn’t be reached Monday to say whether he would re-file the charges.

Nichols, 25, was listed as an inmate at the Crossroads Correctional Center in Shelby on Monday.

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