Havasu woman acquitted on murder charges released on bond

May 2, 2018 GMT

Monday, a Lake Havasu City woman took her first breath of air as a free person in almost two years.

Cheryl Molitor, now 63, was released from Mohave County Jail on $25,000 bond after her acquittal last week on charges of first degree murder. Molitor has been incarcerated since 2016 after the shooting death of her common-law husband, Havasu restaurant owner Kenneth Nissen – a shooting that her attorney says Molitor didn’t commit.

Molitor and Nissen lived together for about five years, during which time she worked at a waitress at his former restaurant, Uncle Kenny’s Diner. Nissen sold the business shortly before his death, and Molitor’s employment at the diner ended shortly afterward. According to police in 2016, Molitor fatally shot Nissen as he slept in their bed on July 26 of that year.

Molitor’s defense countered the accusation in Mohave County Superior Court last week. According to statements made by Michael Wozniak, of Kingman-based law firm Whitney & Whitney, suicide was a distinct possibility in Nissen’s death.

Toxicology reports showed the presence of alcohol and morphine in Nissen’s body at the time of his death, and it was revealed at Molitor’s trial that despite an optimistic demeanor, Nissen was in 2016 seeking help in avoiding reprisal from the IRS in reference to more than $1 million in unpaid taxes. While suicide was only one possible cause of Nissen’s death, Wozniak said, evidence showed that Molitor did not fire the weapon that killed him.

“I’m fully confident that the jury made a rational decision based on the evidence presented at trial and applied Arizona law correctly,” Wozniak said. “My client and I are happy that the evidence shows she did not pull the trigger, and we really do wish the evidence could have definitively indicated what actually happened.”

Those who knew Nissen were vocal in their outrage at the jury’s decision on social media following the jury’s verdict this weekend. Molitor was found not guilty Friday in Mohave County Superior Court on charges of first degree murder, second degree murder and manslaughter in the shooting death of Nissen. The jury was hung on charges of negligent homicide against Molitor, with a 9-3 split in favor of a not-guilty verdict. Prosecutors are expected to decide whether to re-try Molitor on charges of negligent homicide in a May 22 status hearing.

“This is a frustrating situation for all involved, and we will respect the grief that Mr. Nissen’s family and friends have suffered,” Wozniak said.

Among those friends is Sam Cote, whose namesake Nissen’s restaurant now bears. Cote continues to work at the establishment under its new name, Sam’s Place.

“It is what it is,” Cote said of Molitor’s release. “We need to move on. She was tried, and we have to trust the judicial system as well as we can. It’s sad that he died, and how he died … I don’t blame her for his death. I don’t … anything. But we don’t want any complications with staff or customers. (Molitor) is not welcome back at Sam’s Place.”