State drops appeal in Raugust conviction

raugust-pic.jpgRichard 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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Meet the MTIP President and Co-Founder

MTIP President of the Board Dan WeinbergDan 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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Introducing Our Volunteer Coordinator

woody.jpgLet 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.

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MTIP client and volunteer, Richard Raugust, releases first book!

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Fishers of Trout and Men: Protectors of the Realm is a collection of poems written by former MTIP client Richard Raugust, honoring the struggle of soldiers. Richard, an ex-infantry soldier serving in the U.S. Army from 1984-1986, calls his book a “spirit-inspired tool designed to thwart and tamper with the monster we call suicide in our military and civilian populations; enliven, excite, incite, and instill sparks of divinity where needed, while also being subliminally entertaining at creek level.” Fishers of Trout and Men: Protectors of the Realm is available on Amazon.

After 18 years in prison, Richard was released in December 2015. In 1998, he was convicted for the murder of his best friend, Joseph Tash. In 2015, District Court Judge James Wheelis reversed Richard's conviction on the grounds that Richard's constitutional rights were violated when eyewitness testimony was withheld from his defense at the time of trial. This eyewitness testimony confirmed Richard's alibi for the night in question. The testimony raised serious doubt about whether Richard would have been convicted if this information was available to the jury those 18 years ago. Judge Wheelis ordered a new trial and released Richard on his own recognizance.

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When he is not busy writing poetry, http://www.poetryinmotions.org/, Richard volunteers at the Montana Innocence Project where he investigates cases in which other individuals may have been wrongfully convicted.

Thank you for investing in the work of the Montana Innocence Project. Our clients, such as Richard, have so much to contribute to the world!

 

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MTIP Welcomes Summer Intern

The Montana Innocence Project is pleased to welcome John Blake to our offices for the    summer.  John is a law student intern, visiting from the University of the District of  Columbia (U.D.C). David A. Clarke School of Law. John is an alum of the University of Montana where he received his B.A. in Public Administration and American Government  and  minored in Communication Studies. John is a longtime advocate of social justice  and has  organized, directed, and volunteered for various nonprofits for over 15 years.  He was a  Montanans For Justice AmeriCorps member serving with Montana Legal  Services  Association before law school. As part of his first year experience at U.D.C.  David A. Clarke  School of Law, John volunteered on the Clemency Project 2014. During  this project he  developed a better understanding of federal sentencing and how the  criminal justice system  can fail those who find themselves a part of it. John is delighted  that the Joseph L. Rauh  Fellowship, which allows students of U.D.C. Law to serve public  interest organizations over  the summer, allowed him to spend his time back in  Missoula, MT with the Montana Innocence Project.

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MTIP 2011 Home Ground Interview

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60 Minutes Segment Highlights Adjustment for the Wrongfully Convicted

A recent segment on 60 Minutes highlights the adjustment the wrongfully convicted face when they are released back into society. From compensation to benefits to letting go of anger, this clip gives us a glimpse of the human impact of being wrongfully imprisoned far beyond the time they spend in prison. We highly recommend you take the time to watch this program. 

http://www.cbsnews.com/news/60-minutes-life-after-death-row-exoneration/

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MTIP Client Richard Raugust Released Ahead of New Trial

After 18 years in prison, MTIP client Richard Raugust stepped out of the Sander's County jail and into the arms of his devoted family.

In 1998, Richard was convicted for the murder of his best friend, Joseph Tash — a crime he did not commit. 

In 2015, District Court Judge, James Wheelis reversed Richard's conviction on the grounds that Richard's constitutional rights were violated when eyewitness testimony was withheld from his defense at the time of trial. This eyewitness testimony confirmed Richard's alibi for the night in question. The testimony raised serious doubt about whether Richard would have been convicted if this information was available to the jury those 18 years ago. Judge Wheelis ordered a new trial and released Richard on his own recognizance.

A lot of work led up to the moment when Richard smelled fresh air, hugged his mom and sister, and stood before the media choked with emotion as he spoke about obtaining true justice for his best friend. 

There is much more work to be done as MTIP prepares a new trial for Richard and gets him integrated back into society, but in the meantime, MTIP is proud of another step on the path to justice.

Check out the pictures below from the bond hearing and Richard's first meal after his release.

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MTIP Wins Three Favorable Court Decisions!

This summer was a busy and exciting time at MTIP with three favorable court decisions being handed down in a row. These complicated areas of the law were made more clear and just by MTIP's commitment to our mission and our clients. Not only do these decisions benefit our clients, they also usher in a more clear path towards justice in the state of Montana. 

Federal Appeals Court

In July, A decision from the Ninth Curcuit Court of Appeals in the case for our client, Bill Watson came back in our favor. This is a DNA testing case and the court concluded that DNA samples never tested in the case at the time of trial because the technology was not advanced enough, should be treated as new evidence and tested now. Beyond being excellent news for this case, this is a victory for many current and future wrongful conviction cases around the COUNTRY. Below find the superb conclusion from the Opinion:

"Consistent with our tradition, Congress has created a device to end the suffering of the innocent, where their innocence is scientifically demonstrable by DNA evidence, even after their convictions have become final. The most hallowed principle of our criminal law, protecting the innocent, requires us to eschew a crabbed, restricted construction of the statute. Watson moved in timely fashion for previously unperformed DNA testing, based on newly discovered evidence - the results of DNA testing not possible at the time of trial - that could very well prove his actual innocence and mistaken identity. His motion should have been granted.

REVERSED AND REMANDED."

To read more about this case and the decision's nationwide implications, check out this article from AllGov.com

 

Montana Supreme Court

In August, two decisions from the Montana Supreme Court reversed decisions made by the district court in the cases of our clients, Cody Marble and Robert Wilkes. This will send these cases back to the district court to be considered under a new standard for post conviction relief which could set the stage for a new trial for both of our clients. These decisions will have a great impact on cases moving forward through the Montana courts and we are so pleased to have ushered in these new standards. 

Watch a story about the Cody Marble decision from ABCFOX Montana here. You can read about the decision in this article from The Missoulian

Read about the decision from the Supreme Court in the case of Robert Wilkes in this article from The Washington Times

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UM Law Student and MTIP volunteer, Lars Phillips with MTIP Pro Bono Attorney, Colin Stephens prior to Oral Arguments being held in the Cody Marble case before the Montana Supreme Court

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Pulitzer Prize-winning Journalist, Maurice Possley to speak at Annual Open House

Join us this Friday for our Annual Open House! 5-7pm in the Castles Center in the UM Law School - refreshments and light snacks will be provided. We've had a busy year of success, changes, and difficulties. We'd love to share our journey towards justice with you all. We will honor our volunteers with our annual awards and give you updates on our cases. We are thrilled that Pulitzer Prize-winning Journalist, Maurice Possley will be joining us to provide a further look into innocence work across the nation and what it means for us here in Montana. He should not be missed! Below find a bio about the incredible work Maurice has been involved in during his impressive career. We hope to see you there!

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Maurice J. Possley
 
Maurice Possley won a Pulitzer Prize in 2008 for Investigative Reporting at the Chicago Tribune, where he was a criminal justice reporter for 25 years. A three-time Pulitzer Prize finalist for his justice reporting, Possley now works for the National Registry of Exonerations, a database of more than 1,650 wrongful convictions in the U.S. since 1989. He previously worked as a research fellow at Santa Clara University Law School's Northern California Innocence Project, where he co-authored NCIP's report: "Preventable Error: Prosecutorial Misconduct in California 1997-2009." He has worked as a project coordinator for the John Jay College Center on Media, Crime and Justice. He is a New York Times best-selling author and has written three non-fiction books, "Everybody Pays: Two Men, One Murder and the Price of Truth," "The Brown's Chicken Massacre," and "Hitler in the Crosshairs: A GI's Story of Courage and Faith." He also writes occasionally for The Marshall Project.

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