Today marks the sixth anniversary of the day Jimmy Ray Bromgard was exonerated in Montana, after serving more than 14 years for a crime he did not commit. Bromgard was convicted at 18 and released at 32, losing the prime years of his life behind bars. Participating in a prison program for sex offenders could have led to his early release, but he refused to take them. “I would have had to admit my guilt,” he said after his release. “I'd rather sit there in prison for all my life than admit my guilt."
On March 20, 1987, an intruder broke through a window into the home of an eight-year-old girl in Billings, Montana, and raped her. The perpetrator escaped after the attack, stealing a purse and jacket. Later in the day the victim was examined, and police collected hairs and semen from the crime scene.
Based on the victim's description, the police drew a composite sketch of the intruder. An officer linked the sketch to a local teenager he knew, Jimmy Ray Bromgard. After officers videotaped a lineup including Bromgard, the tape was shown to the victim, who said she was "60% or 65% sure" that Bromgard was the perpetrator. During trial, the victim continued to say she was unsure whether Bromgard was the assailant. Yet, Bromgard's assigned counsel never objected to the victim's identification.
The prosecution tied Bromgard to the crime by using the testimony of a state forensic hair examiner, Arnold Melnikoff, who claimed hairs found on the victim's bed were similar to Bromgard's, and further argued there was less than a one-in-10,000 chance that the hairs did not come from Bromgard. Melnikoff’s testimony was fraudulent; there has never been a standard by which to statistically match hairs through microscopic inspection.
Despite stating he was at home and asleep when the crime was committed, Bromgard's attorney did not follow up the investigation or obtain an expert to challenge the state's forensic expert. Bromgard was convicted of three counts of sexual intercourse without consent and sentenced to 40 years in prison. Bromgard spent his twenties in prison, and was finally freed after the Innocence Project attorneys obtained DNA testing on his behalf, which proved that biological evidence from the crime scene came from another man.
Fraudulent science may have played a large role in Bromgard's wrongful conviction, but Bromgard's own court-appointed lawyer also failed to show the inconsistencies in the state's case. Click here to read more about bad lawyering.
Other exoneration anniversaries this week:
, Virginia (Served 17 years, Exonerated in 2000)
, Texas (Served 17 years, Exonerated in 2005)
, California (Served 10 years, Exonerated in 2002)