A judge overturned the conviction of a
Montana Innocence Project
client on Monday because the prosecution failed to disclose critical evidence pointing to the innocence of Richard Raugust who was convicted in 1998 of the murder of his best friend, Joe Tash. Tash was killed by a shotgun blast to the head while he lay in bed on July 24, 1997. Since his arrest, Raugust has insisted he was not at the scene of the crime that night, but that he spent the night at his friend Rick Scarborough’s house because the two men were due at a jobsite early the next morning.
The Montana Innocence Project filed a petition for post-conviction relief in 2012, challenging the eyewitness testimony provided by Rory Ross, an acquaintance of Raugust, who claimed he saw Raugust kill Tash. Ross testified during the trial that Raugust and Tash got into an argument after a long night of drinking together around a bonfire at Raugust’s trailer on the lot he owned with Tash. After the argument, Ross claimed, Tash went to bed but Raugust went outside, got a single barrel shotgun and shot Tash in the head as he lay sleeping.
The court found that Raugust’s constitutional rights were violated because the defense was never informed that former Sanders County Sheriff’s Deputy Wayne Abbey saw Ross’ car stop along the highway where Raugust says he made Ross drop him off after he elected to sleep at Scarborough’s house rather than continue to party with Ross and Tash.
Another witness said in a signed statement that Ross bragged to him about killing Tash on two occasions, threatening him with a knife on the second occasion. The witness is now invoking his Fifth Amendment rights and refusing to speak about the case.
Brett Schandelson, one of Raugust’s attorneys said he hopes Raugust will be released on bail while the prosecution decides whether to re-try him.
“Having just received the order ourselves, we are still digesting it but we are very happy,” Schandelson told the
. “We think it clearly supports Richard Raugust’s alibi and completely changes the narrative of what happened in 1997.”