After 18 years of fighting to prove his innocence Richard Raugust has been fully exonerated of all charges stemming from the 1997 murder of his best friend Joe Tash in Trout Creek, Montana. Raugust has been represented by the Montana Innocence Project and Brett D. Schandelson of Tipp and Buley, P.C. in his quest to prove his innocence.
Raugust was convicted in March 1998 in Sanders County, Montana. After more than a decade of attempting to prove his innocence, Richard requested the help of the newly formed Montana Innocence Project, which first took on Richard’s case in 2009. Schandelson, an attorney in private practice, joined the defense team on a pro bono basis in late 2012.
On September 7, 2016, Sanders County Attorney Robert Zimmerman filed a Motion to Dismiss the charges with Prejudice, fully and finally ending Richard’s long legal struggle. The Motion comes just two weeks after the Montana Attorney General abandoned its efforts to overturn Judge James Wheelis’ November 16, 2015 Order ruling the State had committed a Brady violation by suppressing evidence favorable to Raugust at his 1998 trial. Wheelis’ Order overturned Raugust’s conviction and granted him a new trial. On December 4, 2015, Judge Wheelis freed Raugust from prison on his own recognizance after more than 18 years behind bars. Now that the State has moved to Dismiss all charges With Prejudice and the Court signed the Order, Raugust is fully exonerated and once again a free man.
“We couldn’t be happier for Richard,” said MTIP Legal Director Larry D. Mansch. “Today is the result of many years of dedicated work toward a just cause. Our belief in Richard’s innocence never wavered. We extend our thanks to the many individuals who worked on Richard’s behalf, particularly his legal team which includes Brett Schandelson and Sarah Lockwood of Tipp & Buley; Brendan McQuillan; and Toby Cook. We also express our thanks to our private investigator, the late Spencer Veysey, who dug deep and uncovered the compelling evidence of innocence that ultimately exonerated Richard.”
MTIP Board President Dan Weinberg echoed Mansch’s feelings. “Our organization is dedicated to freeing wrongfully convicted individuals like Richard,” Weinberg said. “We are happy that justice was finally done in this case and we are determined to continue to do our best to help others who are deserving of their freedom.”
“Today is an important day because it’s a very rare occasion where the criminal justice system says ‘Hey, we got it wrong, let’s fix it,’” said Brett D. Schandelson. “But more importantly, today is the beginning of a new chapter in Richard’s life and, after more than 18 years of incarceration, a chance to move forward in a new way. Wherever his new life takes Richard, it will be far removed from the High Side Cell at the Montana State Prison that was his home for far too many years. I am sure that whatever Richard chooses to do with his life he will continue to be an inspiration to those around him.”
“I have been waiting for this moment for many, many years,” said Raugust. “I am grateful for the support and dedicated work of the Montana Innocence Project, and all of the lawyers and volunteers who worked on my case. I look forward to spending time with my friends and family as a free man.”
The Montana Innocence Project, founded in 2008, is a 501(c)(3) organization dedicated to finding and freeing innocent people in Montana prisons. MTIP’s website is http://www.mtinnocenceproject.org
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