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After spending 15 years in prison for a crime he did not commit, on December 29, 2017, Richard Burkhart was fully exonerated for a 2002 conviction for Deliberate Homicide. Judge John Kutzman signed the Order dismissing the judgment in this case.
This is MTIP’s third exoneration in the last 15 months (Richard Raugust in October 2016; Cody Marble in January 2017; and Richard Burkhart in December 2017). In 2014, MTIP filed a Petition for Post-conviction Relief on Burkhart’s behalf. Among other things, MTIP discovered that the sole “eyewitness” to the crime recanted his trial testimony. MTIP also discovered that evidence of another suspect’s confession had not been shared with defense counsel, a violation of the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in the landmark case Brady v. Maryland. MTIP moved to overturn the conviction based upon the Brady violation, and the motion was granted in November 2016.
The State of Montana announced it would re-try Burkhart for the homicide, but finally dismissed the charge last week, citing the strength of the Defendant’s case. “We are very pleased with the Court’s Order dismissing the charge against Richard Burkhart,” said Larry Mansch, Legal Director for the Montana Innocence Project. “Many people – most notably our attorneys Toby Cook, Lars Phillips, Tom Bourguignon, our investigators Spencer Veysey and Michael Wark, and our student volunteers – worked countless hours to free Richard.”
MTIP 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.”
“I have been waiting for this moment for many, many years,” said Burkhart. “I am grateful for the amazing and dedicated work of the Montana Innocence Project. All of their lawyers and volunteers worked so hard on my case. I am looking forward to spending the rest of my life as a free man.”
Each year the Montana Innocence Project (MTIP) holds an open house event at the Alexander Blewett III School of Law featuring a unique guest speaker associated with wrongful convictions. This year’s event featured retired Judge Michael Heavey who discussed corruption in the American criminal justice system and the organization he founded, Judges for Justice. Heavey, a former Judge on the King County Superior Court, formed Judges for Justice after his friend and neighbor Amanda Knox was arrested and charged with murder in Italy.
Heavey said he was disturbed by the case because the Amanda he knew and the Amanda portrayed by the media were very different people. He looked into the case and said he realized there were signs of a wrongful conviction. Motivated to help Amanda and prevent future wrongful convictions, Heavey helped create the non-profit organization, Judges for Justice. A wrongful conviction is a failure of the justice system in the most fundamental sense.
The mission of Judges for Justice is to provide independent, impartial and experienced expert analysis of cases of alleged innocence. This independent evaluation may be instrumental to prosecutors, governors, parole boards, the press, and other interested parties in their assessment of innocence. Judges for Justice attempts to raise the
public consciousness in the community to conclude that a mistake was made in convicting an innocent person. Heavey says, “Our evaluation may help raise the awareness of innocence to a prosecuting attorney and motivate the prosecutor to take action.”
Heavey was passionate as he spoke to the MTIP open house audience. He focused on Montana’s own Barry Beach case and
explained how, from a judge’s perspective, the case was mishandled. Beach also happened to be in attendance at the MTIP open house.
MTIP was honored to host this distinguished speaker at our yearly gathering. Earlier in the day Heavey spoke to the MTIP boardand staff and shared how Judges for Justice works to prevent wrongful convictions.
“I was thrilled when I read about the work that Mike does in Seattle
with a group of judges seeking to prevent wrongful convictions and I wanted him here in Montana to tell us about how his organization works,” said MTIP Executive Director Lisa Mecklenberg Jackson. “We are all on the same side in the fight for justice.”
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Two Missoula attorneys who worked with the Montana Innocence Project (MTIP) on two cases have won prestigious awards for their representation of two now-exonerated clients.
Each year the Montana Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (MTACDL) honors a practitioner or practitioners with its Lawyer of the Year award for those individuals exemplifying outstanding defense skills.
Brett Schandelson of Tipp Coburn Schandelson P.C. and Colin Stephens of Smith & Stephens P.C. were recognized this year for their excellent work and dedication to proving the innocence of two MTIP clients.
Schandelson represented Richard Raugust, donating his time to make Raugust a free man. After 18 years of fighting to prove his innocence, Raugust was fully exonerated in September 2016 of all charges stemming from a 1997 murder. Raugust was the first MTIP exoneree. He is now free thanks to Schandelson’s tireless efforts.
Stephens represented MTIP client Cody Marble pro bono. Marble was wrongfully convicted and incarcerated for 12 years. He was released from custody in April 2016 and Stephens kept fighting until Marble was fully exonerated earlier this year.
“We are so grateful to Brett and Colin for their amazing work in representing our innocent clients,” said MTIP Executive Director Lisa Mecklenberg Jackson. “They worked tirelessly to right the wrong that was committed and we are so appreciative of their time and efforts. We wholeheartedly agree that these two lawyers exemplify the spirit envisioned by the defense lawyers in presenting this award.”
We were recently featured in an article in the latest edition of the Montana Barrister Magazine. Read the full story here.
Pictured (from left to right): Board President Dan Weinberg discusses business with Board Member Clem Work and Executive Director Lisa Mecklenberg Jackson during the open house for Montana Innocence Project Week.
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Jan. 03, 2017, Judge Ed McLean granted the Montana Innocence Project’s Petition for Post-Conviction Relief, and vacated the conviction of Cody Marble. Judge McLean ordered that Cody Marble receive a new trial.
Originally placed in custody in 2002 after his conviction of Sexual Intercourse Without Consent, Marble had been released from custody on April 19, 2016, after the State of Montana filed a Motion to Dismiss Judgement. Marble has spent the better part of 14 years wrongfully incarcerated in the Montana prison system.
In 2010 the Montana Innocence Project filed a Petition for Post-Conviction Relief on Marble’s behalf. The Petition was denied in 2012, and MTIP appealed. The Montana Supreme Court reversed and remanded for further proceedings in 2015. On December 19, 2016, Judge McLean held an evidentiary hearing and heard testimony from MITP legal director Larry Mansch, former executive director Jessie McQuillan, and student intern Mike Garrity, who all testified that the alleged victim in the case had repeatedly recanted his trial testimony. Finding that testimony credible, McLean wrote that “in conjunction with all the other evidence that has been offered in this case, it dictates the necessity of a consideration of a new trial for Mr. Marble.”
“I have been waiting for this moment for many, many years,” said Marble upon hearing of the Court’s order. “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 particularly want to thank Colin Stephens, who took the case as a pro bono attorney and did an outstanding job. I look forward to spending the rest of my life, with my friends and family, as a free man.”
Marble’s father, Jerry, agreed. “It has been such a long time coming,” he said. “We will be forever grateful to Colin Stephens and all the wonderful folks at the Montana Innocence Project. They righted a tremendous wrong. They gave Cody back his life.”
In last Spring’s Motion to Dismiss, Missoula County Attorney Kirsten Pabst noted the Montana Supreme Court mandated that a “more critical look” be taken at the foundation of Marble’s conviction. Since Marble’s conviction, wrote Pabst, “at least three witnesses - including the victim - have recanted their statements.” Further, “a host of law enforcement officers testified that the crime could not have happened; there was no adequate window of opportunity; (and) the other inmates concocted a ‘set-up’; and/or that Marble was railroaded.” The State “reviewed thousands of pages of documents,” interviewed key witnesses, and consulted with the Attorney General. The State found “numerous faults undermining the integrity of the original conviction.” The judgment, wrote Pabst, “lacks integrity and in the interests of doing justice, it must be dismissed.”
Judge McLean agreed with Pabst. “The testimony of Mr. Mansch, Mr. Garrity and Ms. McQuillan concerning the numerous recantations of (the alleged victim),” wrote McLean, “taken together with the other evidence as a whole undermines the confidence the Court has in Mr. Marble’s criminal conviction…”
Mansch expressed satisfaction with Judge McLean’s order. “We are very pleased with the Court’s Order dismissing the judgment against Cody Marble,” said Mansch. Many people – most notable pro bono attorney Colin Stephens and our investigator Spencer Veysey – worked countless hours to free Cody.” MTIP President Dan Weinberg echoed Mansch’s feelings. “Our organization is dedicated to freeing wrongfully convicted individuals like Cody,” 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.”
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We are always working on something exciting here at MTIP, but we know not all of our supporters are able to make it to our events. That's why we've started live-streaming on Facebook and Twitter! Check out our latest tweets, videos and Instagram posts to stay up to date!
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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
Please consider donating to assist us in producing more exonerees like Richard!
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Richard Raugust is another step closer to justice after the state dropped its appeal challenging Raugust's overturned murder conviction.
Raugust was convicted of killing his best friend almost 20 years ago. He is a long-time client of the Montana Innocence Project (MTIP) and volunteers with the project in his spare time.
His sister, Mary Webster shared the news via social media. "One more huge hurdle overcome," Webster wrote. "We are so happy with the state's decision."
Raugust was released in December 2015 and has since published a book of poetry.
"We are excited that Richard is one step closer to seeing justice done," MTIP Executive Director Lisa Mecklenberg Jackson said . "Richard has had this shadow over his life for 18 years and we look forward to the day when he can be free from that darkness."
The case now sits with Saunders County Attorney Robert Zimmerman, who will have to decide whether to retry the case or file a motion to dismiss the charges.
Click here to read more about the decision.
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Dan Weinberg’s passion is social justice. Perhaps it was only a matter of time before he would find himself heading up an organization that exclusively addresses social justice.
While serving in the Montana State Senate from 2005 to 2009, Weinberg became aware of some important issues in Montana’s criminal justice system. Several incarcerated people had been found to be innocent in Montana. Also, for 19 years the State Crime Lab had been giving false testimony involving forensic hair analysis. Upon doing some research on these and other topics, he learned about the Innocence Network, a nationwide group of local organizations that work to exonerate the innocent and reform criminal justice policy. Since Montana had no such organization, Weinberg founded the Montana Innocence Project (MTIP) in 2008 and has served as the MTIP Board President since that time.
Joining with Jessie McQuillan, MTIP’s founding executive director, MTIP established a home in several vacant offices in the University of Montana School of Law. The location was perfect as an important part of MTIP’s mission is to instruct university students on how to do this important work. MTIP works with students from the schools of law, journalism, criminal justice, social work and paralegal studies. They provide vital help in screening and investigating cases.
Weinberg had a life before founding MTIP and becoming its board president. With his life-long interest in social justice, he joined the United States Peace Corps and served two years in Kenya. After Kenya, he lived in Southern Spain for four years, writing article about travel, economics and politics in Spain, North Africa and West Africa.
With travel out of his system, Weinberg returned to the U.S. and eventually earned a MA in Counseling, a MA in Clinical Psychology and a Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology. He worked in many clinical settings, the first of which was the maximum security section of a California prison. He later worked in child and family therapy as well as the University of California-Davis School of Medicine in Sacramento.
Moving to Montana in 2000, Weinberg began work on the Wave, a non-profit aquatic and fitness facility in Whitefish. Taking the lead role raising funds and planning the Wave, he opened it for business in February of 2005. He remains on their Board of Directors. The facility has a membership over 6000.
Weinberg wanted to save the best for last: In May 2016 his first grandchild was born, Owen Daniel Weinberg. He also is a proud father of his son, Zachary, daughter, Abigail, and daughter-in-law Amy.
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Let us introduce to a very important member of the Montana Innocence Project team; our Volunteer Coordinator Glen "Woody" Wood (pictured left holding the tail of Rooster Fish).
Woody has been volunteering with the Montana Innocence Project for two years and became our Volunteer Coordinator about eight months ago. He assigns initial prisoner correspondence to the investigator and supervises the review of the cases. In addition, he interviews potential volunteers and provides training. Also, he humorously replies, "I do other duties as assigned." And we assign Woody a lot! And he does it all with a smile and with cheerful competence.
Woody grew up in the Philadelphia suburb of Havertown. He graduated from Drexel University with a degree in Business Management. He played soccer and his favorite sport, lacrosse, both in high school and college. His working career was quite varied and included sales manager, sales representative, and founding a desktop publishing/newspaper company. Prior to retiring, the last 10 years of his working career he worked with his wife, Kathi, in her business, Role Player Associates, that provided role players for practical exercises at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center, located in Brunswick, Georgia. Woody says "We got along great, I had an office in our home and she at the training center. I doubt our marriage would have survived if we worked in the same office."
After retirement and spending 27 years on the coast of Georgia, mostly St. Simons Island, they visited their son Gregg in Missoula in 2001 and fell in love with Montana and relocated here. They have never regretted this decision, but admits to missing the meals of the fish and seafood they caught, particularly Kathi's scrumptious crab cakes.
Kathi and Woody have traveled extensively and have visited about 40 countries. Volunteering as a host family for foreign participants with the joint ventures of the U.S. State Department and the Mansfield Center they have visited many of their acquaintances in South East Asia. During a visit to Cambodia in 2014 they met five Cambodians that had done a home stay or were familiar with.
They also enjoy deep sea fishing and travel to Yelapa, Mexico once or twice during the winter to catch sailfish, mai mai, tuna, etc.
Woody has worked with numerous nonprofits since moving to Missoula. Kathi and Woody received an award from the Mansfield Center "in recognition of their outstanding host family commitment." Woody has also been very involved with the MOLLI program, which is a University of Montana continuing educational program for 50-plus people. Woody and his wife Kathi were named the 2015 Peacemakers of the Year by the Jeanette Rankin Peace Center and Peace Quilters.
Woody is most honored to have received the Montana Innocence Project’s first annual "Spencer Veysey Award" in 2015 for outstanding volunteer of the year.