More than a year after a jury convicted Nicholas Kistler of attempted murder, the 36-year-old Arcata man was sentenced this morning to 11 years to life in state prison.


Judge Christopher Wilson sentenced Kistler to seven years for premeditated attempted murder, three years for causing great bodily injury and one year for use of a weapon, a hammer. Kistler used the hammer to strike a man twice over the head, fracturing his skull, in April 2017 on the Arcata Plaza. Kistler had attempted to disguise himself with a bandana.

Before the sentencing, defense attorney Andrea Sullivan asked the judge to consider that Kistler “was provoked when he attacked (the victim)” and deeply regrets his decision. During his more than three years behind bars, Kistler participated in numerous programs and was awarded multiple certificates.

“He has done tremendous work while in custody,” Sullivan said.

She asked the judge to strike the weapons conviction, which would cut one year from Kistler’s sentence.

Kistler, on video conference from the jail, read a lengthy statement taking responsibility for his crime and vowing to change his thinking and my behavior. He blamed his actions partially on drug addiction.

“It lays heavily on my heart, Kistler said, “that I found myself in such a low place that my actions were to paint an entirely different picture than what I’ve always seen as who I am as a person … I have made a personal commitment to nonviolence as a way of life and have not been in a single physical altercation or even so much as an argument during the the 3 1/2 years of my incarceration to date.”

While in jail, Kistler took advantage of every program offered and earned “dozens” of certificates.

“My path today is one of accountability and personal responsibility,” he said.

Kistler was convicted in March 2019. The sentencing was delayed first by his failed attempt at getting a new trial, and then with his claim that his trial attorney hadn’t represented him adequately.

Deputy District Attorney Luke Bernthal, the trial prosecutor, argued today that the weapons enhancement should not be stricken. Although defense attorney Sullivan claimed Kistler was provoked, “that factual scenario was soundly rejected by the jury, who was instructed on attempted voluntary manslaughter as a possible crime and instead came back with a finding that the defendant had committed premeditated attempted murder,” Bernthal said.

The jury also found, he said, that Kistler perjured himself on the witness stand.

As to Kistler’s stellar performance as an inmate, Bernthal sees him in a different light. I look at the defendant’s record and I see one of someone who was a violent individual who’s been spiraling out of control since 2014,” Bernthal told the judge. “Serious, escalating violence.”

Among Kistler’s many previous crimes were battery on a police officer and possession of a dirk or dagger. He fought with Winco employees after stealing from the store. One battery case was dismissed, and Kistler “managed to defeat” other charges related to a case “eerily similar to this one,” Bernthal said.

“He purports to regret his actions,” the prosecutor said. “But everything that he has done, from the perjury he committed during his trial, the litigation afterward, frankly the speech that he has given today, is in the People’s view simply evidence that he believes that he can continue to get away with these things as he has gotten away with them in the past.”

Bernthal said it’s unfortunate it took this case “to bring home to him, that he cannot, for example, disguise himself in broad daylight and hit somebody two times in the head with a hammer, trying to kill them. “

Before Wilson imposed the sentence he commended Kistler on his efforts at self-improvement while in jail.

“Mr. Kistler you are still a young man,” Wilson said. “I think that your accomplishments while you’ve been custody are admirable, and you shouldn’t feel like those are wasted upon the court. They are certainly not wasted on any review board that might consider your ultimate release. Continue those efforts. You have time to make changes to your life and lifestyle that have led you to this unfortunate place.”

At the same time, the judge said, the law allows him no discretion in sentencing other than the option of striking the weapons allegation.

“I’m not inclined to do that,” Wilson told Kistler. “Really it’s part and parcel of this particular event. I think that the jury, given the choice of weapon that was used here, that that was probably a significant factor in making the finding of premeditation and deliberation and the intent to kill. Certainly the selection of (a hammer) would perhaps suggest that.”

Kistler was given credit for 1,242 actual days served, plus 186 days of “good time” credit.