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On June 1, 2018, upon motion of the Lewis and Clark County special prosecutor, District Court Judge Kathy Seeley ordered that the 1995 robbery, kidnapping, and homicide charges against Montana Innocence Project (MTIP) clients Freddie Joe Lawrence and Paul Jenkins be dismissed. The Order means that Lawrence and Jenkins, who had received life sentences, are exonerated of the offenses. These cases mark the fifth and sixth exonerations secured by the MTIP in the last two years.
MTIP began its investigation into the cases in 2012. In 2015, MTIP filed petitions for DNA testing of certain physical items of evidence. While the lab results were pending, MTIP discovered other new evidence of their clients’ innocence, including the admissions of another man, David Nelson.
In early 2018, the DNA results were received, and MTIP filed motions to overturn the convictions against Lawrence and Jenkins. Judge Seeley granted the motions in April 2018. The DNA results were “clearly favorable to Defendants Jenkins and Lawrence,” wrote Judge Seeley in her Order. “No DNA linked to Jenkins and Lawrence was found. The result…matches the DNA of David Nelson – a man known to have committed similar violent kidnappings, robberies, and, in Deer Lodge, homicides.”
Further, Judge Seeley noted that the DNA evidence and other evidence presented by MTIP “far exceeds the standard of a reasonable probability of a different outcome at trial.”
Judge Seeley then released Lawrence and Jenkins from the Montana State Prison, where they had spent the last 23 years.
On June 1st, 2018, the State of Montana decided it would not proceed against Lawrence and Jenkins and moved to dismiss the charges. Judge Seeley then signed the Order of Dismissal and the two men are now exonerated of all crimes.
MTIP staff attorney Toby Cook noted the power of scientific evidence. “The DNA evidence is overwhelming in this case, and we are very pleased with Judge Seeley's Order. Mr. Lawrence and Mr. Jenkins will never get back the 23 years they were in prison. However, in the last two months since their release from custody they have made great progress in adjusting back to society and we are confident they will go on to lead successful and productive lives."
MTIP Board of Directors President Ron Waterman echoed Cook’s feelings. “Our organization is dedicated to freeing wrongfully convicted individuals like Fred and Paul,” Waterman said. “We are happy that the court has recognized the obvious injustice that occurred in this case. Justice is an evolving process, and part of our system of justice is correcting past mistakes. Judge Seeley’s Order is the result of the hard work of our staff and volunteers. In this case, not only did we coordinate the DNA testing that excluded our client, but we also identified the likely perpetrator of the crimes.”
Waterman noted that 2018 marks the tenth anniversary of MTIP. “We have gained the exonerations of six individuals who were wrongfully convicted of crimes,” he said. “Together they have served nearly 100 years in prison and now they have their freedom. That is what our organization is all about. We are committed to carry on our important work on behalf of all of our clients. We hope that the public continues to support our efforts through further volunteering and contributing to our programs.”
The newest exonerees expressed their appreciation. “I am very grateful for MTIP’s efforts on my behalf,” said Paul Jenkins. “They worked hard to get my freedom restored. They gave me back my life.”
“I have been waiting for this moment for many, many years,” said Freddie Lawrence. “I am very grateful for the amazing and dedicated work of the Montana Innocence Project. Their lawyers, experts, and investigators worked tirelessly on my behalf.”
The Montana Innocence Project 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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Robbery, Kidnapping, and Homicide Convictions Overturned for Fred Lawrence and Paul Jenkins
(Missoula, MT) DNA linked to a convicted killer helped exonerate two men after 23 years. Upon motions brought by the Montana Innocence Project, Judge Kathy Seeley of Helena has overturned the 1995 Robbery, Kidnapping, and Homicide convictions of Fred Lawrence and Paul Jenkins. The two men had received life sentences in prison after a jury convicted them of the crimes. In 2015, MTIP filed petitions for DNA testing of certain physical items of evidence. While the lab results were pending, MTIP discovered other new evidence of their clients’ innocence, including the admissions of another man, David Nelson. In early 2018 the DNA results were received, and are “clearly favorable to Defendants Jenkins and Lawrence,” wrote Judge Seeley in her order. “No DNA linked to Jenkins and Lawrence was found. The result…matches the DNA of David Nelson – a man known to have committed similar violent kidnappings, robberies, and, in Deer Lodge, homicides.” Judge Seeley further noted, “(State) investigators have been unable to establish any connection between David Nelson and Defendant Jenkins or Defendant Lawrence.” Further, Judge Seeley noted that the DNA evidence and other evidence presented by MTIP “far exceeds the standard of a reasonable probability of a different outcome at trial.” The State of Montana now must decide whether it will re-try Lawrence and Jenkins, or whether it will proceed against Nelson. “We are very pleased with the Court’s Order overturning the convictions against Fred Lawrence and Paul Jenkins,” said Larry Mansch, Legal Director for the Montana Innocence Project. “Many people – most notably our attorneys Toby
Cook, Thad Adkins, Larry Jent, our investigators Spencer Veysey and Michael Wark, and our student volunteers – worked countless hours for this result. I particularly commend Dr. Greg Hampikian of the Boise State University Innocence Project, who provided critical testimony and analysis regarding the DNA evidence.” Mansch noted that analysis by Dr. Hampikian’s Boise State University laboratory was performed under a Kirk Bloodsworth Post-Conviction DNA Testing Program from the U.S. Department of Justice grant. The Boise team used TrueAllele software by Cybergenetics to develop profiles from key evidence. “We worked with the Montana Innocence Project on this case for 5 years,” said Dr. Hampikian. “They left no stone unturned, and found the evidence that tells the whole story.” MTIP staff attorney Toby Cook noted the power of scientific evidence. “The DNA evidence is overwhelming in this case, and we are very pleased with Judge Seeley's Order. However, Mr. Lawrence and Mr. Jenkins will never get back the 23 years they were in prison."
MTIP attorney Larry Jent was the author of the DNA statute that allowed for testing. “I was proud to work on the law that provides for critical DNA testing in cases like this. This is one of the most gratifying results in my entire legal career. This is why you go to law school. I am humbled and honored to be one of Fred Lawrence’s lawyers, and to be part of such a great team of lawyers and volunteers seeking justice. Judge Seeley’s ruling corrects a terrible injustice” MTIP founder and President Dan Weinberg echoed the staff’s feelings. “Our organization is dedicated to freeing wrongfully convicted individuals like Fred and Paul,” Weinberg said. “We are happy that the court has recognized the obvious injustice that occurred in this case, and we are determined to carry on the fight for our clients. Justice will finally occur when they are freed, and that day is coming.”
“I have been waiting for this moment for many, many years,” said Fred Lawrence. “I am very grateful for the amazing and dedicated work of the Montana Innocence Project. Their lawyers, experts, and investigators worked tirelessly on my behalf. Thank God for the Montana Innocence Project.”
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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
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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.