Week in Review: January 16-20

by Travis Mateer

Before recording this week’s wrap up of the Lee Nelson murder trial, I stopped in a local pawn shop to take a picture of their memorial for the well-known homeless man. Here it is:

If you only read local media’s brief account of the trial’s conclusion, like NBC Montana’s regurgitation of the press release, you’d be forgiven for thinking the state did a fantastic job investigating and prosecuting this horrific crime. History is written by the victor, after all.

“This case investigation was led by Detective Guy Baker and involved all of the resources the Missoula Police Department had to offer. This includes the patrol division, additional detectives, and the crime scene investigators. This case was successfully prosecuted due to a lot of hard work by Deputy County Attorney Mac Bloom and Deputy County Attorney Caitlin Creighton ,” according to a release from Missoula County.

While I hope justice was served by this trial, there are questions that possibly the sentencing portion of this process may illuminate. From the KGVO article (emphasis mine):

Bloom said now that the trial is over, the sentencing phase will take several months.

“The sentence will be determined in April, and I believe sentencing was set for April 17 at 9:00 a.m,” he said. “The court is going to set a special setting to allow the parties more time to argue for what they believe to be an appropriate sentence. We have to look at a lot of things including criminal history, background, and other information. At this point, the Department of Corrections starts preparing what’s called a pre-sentence investigation report, and that just goes through and outlines every aspect of a person’s life, their education, history, their work history, their family history, their criminal history, and prepares a report so that all the parties and the court know exactly what kind of a person we’re working with and then can tailor a sentence appropriately.”

Yes, more work for the criminal justice system means more opportunity for me to bring peeks and insights, and you can help! Just go to my about page and make a contribution today!

Next week there’s a coroner’s inquest I’ll be in court to watch, and then there’s getting back to Helena at some point to either observe or provide comment, because that sounds like fun! But not as much fun as the OUTRO to the podcast episode above, which begins at the 1 hour 13 minute mark and features a pairing of two audio clips you’ll just have to check out!

Thanks for reading/listening!

About Travis Mateer

I'm an artist and citizen journalist living and writing in Montana. You can contact me here: willskink at yahoo dot com
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1 Response to Week in Review: January 16-20

  1. Amanda Gordon says:

    Criminal cases require the government to prove a defendant’s guilt to a jury beyond a reasonable doubt.

    In my case, the state used the example of the certainty one would want when making the decision whether to pull a loved one off of life support.

    I agree with that. In fact, many defense attorneys use this example in jury selection. That is the kind of certainty you need in order to find someone guilty. Whether it be a speeding ticket, theft, rape, or murder.

    In its closing argument the prosecutor told the jury that “The defense has not proven to you that (other suspect) committed this murder. They have not given you a cohesive story that explained everything and made sense.”

    This is the worst burden shifting I have ever seen allowed.

    This is a big deal because we got a juror feedback form stating that the defense should have spent less time picking apart the state’s evidence and more time providing a viable alternative.

    Though not supposed to, the jury clearly put the burden on us. We were apparently supposed to be defense attorneys, detectives, and prosecutors. We were apparently supposed to solve a crime with conclusive evidence that the state could not even provide against the client.

    It did not matter that we proved lies, omissions, deceit, improper testing of evidence, contamination and spoliation of evidence, etc. The incomplete investigation and confirmation bias did not matter. The perjury and evidence tampering was excused by the court as an honest mistake. One that just happened to be caught on video and disclosed after a week of trial and the evidence tech’s first testimony.

    Since we could not do the state’s job, the jury took the prosecutors’ comments to heart and gave us the burden of proving someone else’s guilt. Someone whose evidence was spoiled by state agents and was never properly maintained or tested.

    When a judge is favoring (and even helping) the state so obviously, this is the kind of thing that can happen. Constitutional rights violations and wrongful convictions.

    This is just one of numerous appellate issues in this case. It is one that I hope the Montana Supreme Court takes seriously. Thanks for the coverage. We are still pretty stunned by the state and the jury but are looking forward to the appeal and to holding the agencies in Missoula to a much higher standard.

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