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Fourth murder suspect in county jail

Lake County officials have in custody a fourth suspect in the 2005 murder of Harold Mitchell Jr., a 73-year-old St. Ignatius man.

Nigel Ernst arrived at the Lake County Jail Tuesday afternoon after being transported from federal prison in Victorville, Calif., where he was serving time for felony possession of a firearm and possession with intent to distribute, Lake County Undersheriff Jay Doyle said. 

As of Tuesday, Ernst hadn’t been charged in the Mitchell murder case, and Lake County Attorney Mitch Young had no comment on the subject. But Doyle said charges would likely be deliberate homicide and tampering with evidence.

While the murder investigation isn’t over, “it’s getting closer,” Doyle said.

“Right now we know that there are four individuals that are suspects in this,” he said. “All four, with the exception of (Nathan) Ross, are currently being held.”

Ernst is now in custody in Lake County; Ross is out on bail; and Clifford Old Horn and Kyle Brown are currently being held in other county jails, Doyle said.

“Mike (Sargeant) and I started out with this case five years ago … it’s kind of nice to be involved at the end,” he added.

According to charging documents for Ross, firefighters responded to a mobile home fire in the St. Ignatius area on July 7, 2005, and recovered Mitchell’s partially burned body from the home. The body was sent to the state crime lab in Missoula, where an autopsy determined that Mitchell died of a knife wound to the neck before the fire started. 

The investigation also showed that gasoline was used as an accelerant in the fire, and Mitchell’s death was ruled a homicide.

Nearly three years later, Doyle received a letter from Old Horn, then an inmate in the regional prison in Great Falls. In the letter, Old Horn claimed he was a witness to Mitchell’s murder, so Doyle and Lake County Sheriff’s Lt. Mike Sargeant went to Great Falls and interviewed Old Horn. 

On the night of Mitchell’s death, Old Horn told them, he, Ross, Ernst and Brown planned to rob Mitchell, because they had heard he kept large amounts of cash in his home. When the four entered Mitchell’s home, Brown began beating Mitchell to make him tell where the money was hidden. 

At that point, Old Horn claimed he left the house because he couldn’t stand watching the beating. A short while later, Old Horn said he saw Ross come out of the house, take a gas can from Brown’s car and go back inside. Later Ross, Ernst and Old Horn drove back to Dixon in Ernst’s vehicle. 

According to the affidavit, Ross confirmed Old Horn’s story, adding that Ernst told Ross to clean up the bloody scene after Mitchell died. Ross poured gasoline on and around Mitchell’s body and left with Ernst and Old Horn.

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