It’s been nearly 17 years since a Trout Creek man was convicted of murdering his best friend. Since then, Richard Raugust insists he didn't do it.
Now the Montana Innocence Project says there’s new evidence and Raugust deserves a new trial.
The murder happened in 1997 when Raugust and two friends, Rory Ross and Joe Tash, were out drinking. Court documents say that after 2 a.m. the three of them went to Raugust’s trailer to continue partying.
An argument erupted and Tash was shot and killed that night. Ross claims he saw Raugust pull the trigger.
A three-day hearing started and new evidence was presented in the hopes of getting Raugust a re-trial.
Raugust has been serving a life sentence for homicide, but he says he didn’t do it. He wrote to the Montana Innocence Project for help in 2009.
“With Richard, we started reviewing his case in 2011 and starting investigating it, found new evidence, and we are his attorney for this case,” said Executive Director of the Montana Innocence Project Keegan Flaherty.
Raugust has stuck by his alibi for 17 years.
“Richard has always stated that he got out of the car and went to Rick Scarborough’s [a friend of Raugust] house and slept on the floor that night because he had to get up early for work. So it didn’t make sense for him to go to the campsite that night,” Flaherty said.
At the first day of the hearing, a retired Sanders County sheriff’s deputy, Wayne Abbey, took the stand. Abbey claims he saw Ross’ car stop that night, indicating that someone may have gotten out and not gone to the murder site.
Prosecutors argued that it would have been extremely difficult to see that.
The Innocence Project also called other witnesses.
“Randy Fisher is another witness that was threatened by Rory Ross, and he has evidence,” Flaherty said.
Fisher claims that during an argument, Ross pulled a knife on him and said, “I can do you like I did that guy,” and “I could gut you right now for snitching.”
“We have Dan Yarmey who is an ear-witness expert. Richard was convicted because some people said that they heard him in the woods that night. (Yarmey) is an expert that’s going to show it’s nearly impossible to hear, to be able to call someone out 100 yards through the woods,” Flaherty said.
Prosecutors argue they got the right guy the first time around.
After hearing all the presented evidence, the judge will decide whether Raugust should get a new trial.
“Our hope is that the full story is heard and we believe that this evidence shows that Richard could not have been at the campsite at the night Joe Tash was murdered,” Flaherty said.
Ross, the man who claimed to witness the murder, was asked to take the stand but he pleaded the Fifth Amendment and was not questioned.
The hearing is expected to last until Friday, then the judge will decide if there’s enough evidence for a re-trial.