Officials say inmate should be freed in light of DNA evidence
BILLINGS -- A man who has spent the past 15 years in prison should be set free because DNA evidence shows he did not rape an 8-year-old girl, Attorney General Mike McGrath said Tuesday.
McGrath joined Yellowstone County Attorney Dennis Paxinos in asking a District Court judge to vacate the convictions against Jimmy Ray Bromgard, now 33.
`` Clearly there has been an injustice in this case,'' said Paxinos, who was not the county prosecutor when Bromgard was convicted. `` The last thing anyone wants is to keep a man behind bars when, in fact, he did not commit the crime that put him there.''
McGrath said it is the first case in Montana in which DNA evidence showed
a person convicted of a crime was innocent.
`` There's joy and then there's sadness,'' he said Tuesday. `` He lost his life pretty much. I'm concerned for how he's going to be able to function on the outside.''
A jury convicted Jimmy Ray Bromgard in 1987 of three counts of rape. Prosecutors said he broke into the bedroom of an 8-year-old Billings girl, gagged her and then sexually assaulted her. The victim apparently picked Bromgard out of a police lineup, McGrath said, and the conviction were based largely on her testimony. Bromgard was sentenced to 40 years in prison.
McGrath said Bromgard and attorneys from the group The Innocence Project requested DNA tests on samples of semen recov ered from the victim's clothing. The first test, conducted by an independent lab in California, showed the samples did not match Bromgard's DNA. A separate test by the Montana Crime Lab con firmed the findings, McGrath said.
He said based on the informa tion, he and Paxinos requested the convictions be thrown out. DNA testing was not widely used at the time of Bromgard's conviction.
A hearing on the request is scheduled for Oct. 1 in Billings. Bromgard is expected to be transferred to Yellowstone County from the prison in Shelby, where he has been held, officials said.
Peter Neufeld, an attorney for The Innocence Project who handled Bromgard's case, said he spoke with Jimmy Ray Bromgard Tuesday afternoon and he was `` ecstatic.''
`` He's had a terrible, terrible time,'' Neufeld said of Bromgard's conviction and imprisonment. `` Other young men his age went to college, got married, had careers. He's been cutting license plates.''
Rodney Bromgard, who had planned a recent visit to see his brother, said he looks forward to spending time with him.
`` I just want us to sit down and just kind of look out at the sky,'' he said. `` It's freedom.''