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La Plata County man sentenced to prison for manslaughter

Prosecutor and defense attorney clash over facts of the case

A La Plata County man was sentenced to six years in prison Friday for reckless manslaughter after a fatal shooting in the county in November 2021.

Nicolo Tonelli, 26, was convicted by a jury in January for shooting and killing his 27-year-old friend and illicit business partner Jamison McMaster after the two got into a fight over a tote container of cannabis.


Deputy District Attorney Vance Davis and Tonelli's public defense attorney clashed several times during the sentencing hearing over the relevance and factuality of information in a mitigation report.

Sixth Judicial District Judge Suzanne Carlson appeared to agree with the defense in several instances where the defense objected to information Davis presented.

The prosecution previously pursued a conviction of second-degree murder, but members of the jury were wary of several elements of the case, and it would be inappropriate to renew those matters at sentencing, Tonelli’s defense attorney said during the hearing.

McMaster’s mother, father and brother attended Tonelli’s hearing to advocate for the harshest sentence allowable by law and to speak to the grief they feel over their son’s death.

A major point made by the McMasters family and reinforced by Carlson at sentencing was Tonelli and other parties knew McMaster was experiencing a mental health crisis and abusing hallucinogenic mushrooms when Tonelli fatally shot him.

Anderson McMaster, Jamison’s brother, said his late brother was known for being “eager to do things his own way,” and his death was “unexpected” and a “monumental” shake up for his family.

He said it is ironic his own mother drove Tonelli to Des Moines, Iowa, nearly three years ago to the day on Easter Sunday 2021 at the behest of Jamison McMaster, who knew Tonelli was going through his own struggles and that seeing his family in Iowa might help.

The brothers’ mother, Mary Anderson McMaster, later said during the hearing she was skeptical about driving a thousand miles alone with Tonelli, who she didn’t trust. She caved to Jamison’s requests, however, because Jamison loved Tonelli and “truly cared about him.”

“That boy is not right,” she said of Tonelli.

Jim McMaster, Jamison’s father, broke into tears as he addressed the court. Exasperated, he raised his voice when he rhetorically asked why Tonelli, if he was Jamison’s best friend and had no intention of killing him when the trigger was pulled, didn’t call 911 after the shooting.

“My son is dead because of money and greed,” he said.

He said Tonelli is a “coward” for not testifying before the court, which prompted Tonelli’s defense attorney to later say it is Tonelli’s constitutional right to refuse to testify against himself.

Davis said the facts of the circumstances that led to Tonelli killing Jamison are uncertain. A digital video recorder that could have informed law enforcement’s investigation was present at the scene of the shooting, but Tonelli removed it after he shot Jamison.

He said the facts that are clear are that Tonelli removed evidence and went so far as to move Jamison’s body face down into the trunk of his vehicle after Jamison “was shot through the heart and died instantly.”

The dispute over a tote box of weed was also a known factor in the shooting, and Tonelli wouldn’t let Jamison leave with it “come hell or high water,” Davis said.

Carlson said it is alarming Tonelli didn’t seek help after the shooting. She said Tonelli and others present on scene were too scared of doing the right thing because of their illegal cannabis operation, or at least they were more concerned about their ill-gotten money.

She said it goes without saying when someone dies by another’s hands, the person responsible needs to face prison time as punishment but also as a deterrent to prevent similar crimes in the future.

In addition to six years in prison, Carlson sentenced Tonelli to serve another 18 months for the conviction of reckless manslaughter, to be followed by three years on parole. Tonelli was awarded 859 days credit – a little over two years – for time spent in jail awaiting trial and sentencing.