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Montana Man Gets $5M Settlement For 1998 Wrongful Conviction

Richard Raugust, wrongfully convicted in a homicide, has received $5 million settlement in a case against Sanders County, Mt., and a deputy sheriff. In 1998, Raugust was wrongfully convicted of using a shotgun to shoot a friend and housemate to death and setting the scene on fire, after another man falsely accused him, reports Daily Montanan. A deputy sheriff withheld exculpatory evidence, said the law firm Blackford Carls and the Montana Innocence Project. The evidence that was withheld would have corroborated Raugust's alibi and his court testimony and it would have impeached the statements of witnesses who testified against him in the murder of Joe Tash. The officer should have disclosed the information, which would “put the whole case in such a different light as to undermine the confidence in the verdict,” a federal court order. Raugust was sentenced to life in prison for homicide and lesser terms for other crimes. In 2015, Raugust's convictions were vacated. The state later dismissed the case.

In a claim filed before the civil case, Raugust requested $97 million for lost freedom and physical and emotional damage, but the state denied the claim. Raugust then brought a civil lawsuit against the deputy sheriff and Sanders County for the violation of his constitutional rights and the wrongful conviction. The parties settled for $5 million. Raugust was represented by Hillary Carls and Sherine Blackford of Bozeman and Melinda Driscoll of Billings. “It’s been amazing to hear him talk about what he wants to do ...things he was thinking about when he was in prison but didn’t give up hope,” Carls said. Joe Bischof, the late director of the Montana Innocence Project, said before he died in 2019 that Raugust carries no bitterness about being wrongfully convicted. “It’s really kind of a remarkable thing to witness,” said Bischof. “I think any of us who had been wronged the way he was would certainly carry something with us harboring a lot of disgust and dislike for our fellow human beings."


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