JACKSON, Wyo. (AP) - The most notable thing about the Rim Road more than 1.8 miles from Highway 191 is the silence.
Even the few cars that drove past from the ranches and houses farther back in the Hoback Ranches subdivision Jan. 28 didn’t make much of a dent in the sense that the spot is remote indeed.
“I can’t think of any reason to be back here,” Lillian Edick said, seeing the scene for the first time. “They must have meant to do what they did.”
Then her eyes filled with tears and she started to sob.
Edick’s brother, Richard Nystrom, died there eight years ago at age 46 while hitchhiking from Jackson to California.
On Jan. 27, 32-year-old Matthew Rae Vincent, of Big Piney, was sentenced to spend the next 30 to 50 years in prison as part of a plea deal after admitting that he stabbed Nystrom in the neck with a pocket knife, then beat him to death with rocks he found in that spot along the Rim Road.
The murder went unsolved until last year, when DNA evidence preserved on one of those rocks and on a branch of sagebrush brought investigators to Vincent’s door.
Edick traveled from her home in California in a silver Ford Escape to attend the sentencing hearing.
She said she would like her story to bring hope to people who are still waiting for justice for lost loved ones.
On her way home she stopped at the place her brother died on Rim Road, which an obliging investigator marked for her on a map.
Before getting into the car she looked straight at the spot most likely to be the one described - by a creek, surrounded by willows - and squared her shoulders.
“I’m glad I did this,” she said quietly.
The fatal journey
Nystrom spent the last day of his life in Jackson as part of his journey around the West.
Jackson law enforcement traced his steps through town, including to the Good Samaritan Mission, where he spent his last night.
Edick said he was hitchhiking around “preaching the gospel on foot” as part of his legacy as a preacher’s son.
A family camping near Camp Creek Inn told investigators they saw him heading south out of town with his thumb out, looking for a ride.
As near as Sublette County authorities can tell, he found one with Vincent, who was on his way to Big Piney after walking away from a jail in Canyon County, Idaho.
They drove off the highway down Rim Road, about 15 miles away.
Vincent said Nystrom pulled out a pocket knife, though he did not open it, causing Vincent to fear for his life, Vincent said at his change of plea hearing.
Vincent pulled out a pocket knife of his own, stabbed Nystrom twice in the back of the neck and threw him out of the car.
Then he picked up two rocks from the ground and beat Nystrom so hard he caused the “multiple blunt force trauma to the head, face and head” that a Loveland, Colorado, pathologist determined killed him.
Vincent left and then came back in his car to try to find the pocket knife.
He found Nystrom still breathing.
He left him lying by the creek and drove away, he said at his change of plea hearing.
“I believe my actions caused Richard Nystrom to die that night, and I believe I’m guilty,” Vincent told the court. “That’s why I’m pleading guilty.”
Sublette County deputies found him later that morning, on April 3, 2007.
They also found blood on several rocks and on a branch of sagebrush.
A technician with the Wyoming State Crime Lab reported finding “an unknown male DNA profile” that was not Nystrom’s on swabs from the rocks and the branch. As Deputy Director John Jolley said is common practice, the technician entered the profile into CODIS, a national database of DNA profiles.
Edick drove from California with her daughter to identify her brother’s body. She took him home to be buried.
The world seemed to move on.
Vincent got married and had a daughter.
Edick and her six sisters found what peace they could, she said.
Then, in 2014, Vincent was arrested for his third DUI in Idaho, triggering the state’s felony DUI statute, and went to a state prison.
His DNA went into CODIS, and the technician called Sublette County investigators. She had found a match for the unknown male at the scene of Richard Nystrom’s murder.
“We run checks every so often to see if there is a new match for a DNA profile we entered in,” Jolley said. “If there is, we call the original investigating agency and tell them we have a new investigative lead.”
After an investigation, Sublette County authorities charged Vincent with eight felonies including first- and second-degree murder.
Vincent accepted a plea deal with Sublette County prosecutors that he would admit to one count of second-degree murder in exchange for a cap on his sentence - 50 years maximum rather than the life sentence allowed by law - and his agreement to give a full accounting of that evening to prosecutors.
Edick was the only member of her family to return to Wyoming for Vincent’s sentencing. She said most of her family is still too angry and struggling with hating Vincent for the loss of their beloved brother.
Even for her it was among the hardest things she’s ever done, she said.
“I was very anxious, very broken up,” she said. “Knowing I was going to face Matthew was very difficult. He was taller than I thought.”
As the only sister to see her brother’s body after the autopsy, she knew that what had happened to him was brutal.
“I’ve lived all these years playing the images in my head of what happened,” she said. “Now I know things I didn’t know then, and it’s even more horrible than I’d thought. Hearing those things, it was as if it happened yesterday.”
At his sentencing more of the specifics came out.
“I think about it, and I panic,” she said. “I find myself trying to stop it, in my head, when I picture it, and I can’t.”
Despite all that, Edick said, she accepted an embrace when it was offered by Vincent’s family at his sentencing. And she wants anyone waiting to hear about a loved one’s fate to know that when they do hear, it helps.
“My pain I think is lessened” since the sentencing, she said. “It’s a different kind of pain now.”
Information from: Jackson Hole (Wyo.) News And Guide, https://www.jhnewsandguide.com
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