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Two Roads To Freedom: A Man Convicted Of Rape In Havre Maintains His Innocence

Edward Harold Ghostbear insists he’s innocent of the rape a Hill County jury convicted him of in 2012.

His refusal to admit to the crime, though, may be costing Ghostbear his health and is certainly preventing his parole.

He’s stuck between a rock and a hard place, he says, between his health and admitting to something he didn’t do.

He’s sick, he’s losing his eyesight and he had a stroke in 2018, ailments caused or compounded by the alleged “almost non-existent” Montana State Prison health care, in Ghostbear’s opinion.

In letters filed this year in 12th Judicial District Court, Ghostbear contends he is in constant pain, has lost 40 percent of his vision and is on the verge of another stroke, which he attributes to hypertension for which he’s receiving inadequate treatment.   

A Montana State Prison spokesperson told the Herald the health care provided to inmates is comprehensive and “top notch” and the medical staff is fully equipped to handle all manner of ills.

Ghostbear, who’s serving a five-year sentence for felony sexual assault handed down in September 2017 by then-District Judge Daniel Boucher, is trying a two-pronged approach to parole.

Both roads to freedom appear steep.

He can’t be considered for nonmedical parole until he completes the two-phased Sexual Offender Treatment program. That was part of his sentencing requirements.

But completing the sexual offender program is not an option, he said in a recent letter to the 12th Judicial District Court in Havre. He would have to admit that in 2012 he repeatedly raped a 7-year-old girl in the basement of a Havre church-turned homeless shelter, which he says he cannot do —because he didn’t do it.

Ghostbear has insisted on his innocence before, during and after the trial.

So he’s asking for medical parole.

That road doesn’t seem much easier.

First, he would need the sentencing court to remove the treatment program requirement. Then he would need the parole board to agree that Ghostbear’s medical needs are so grave and serious that the Montana State Prison system cannot handle them.

But the parole board chair said inmates basically have to be on their death bed to meet the requirements for medical parole.

“The parole board is not going to let a non-treated sex offender back into the community,” Parole Board Chair Annette Carter told the Herald Wednesday.

Edward Ghostbear

Ghostbear is also appealing to the Montana Supreme Court for a new trial.

A witness who spent time at the shelter where he committed the rapes testified during sentencing that Ghostbear was not the kind of person who would rape a child, the “most heinous crime anyone could commit.” It’s not who Ghostbear was. What he saw, the witness said, was someone getting his life together, not a rapist.

Hinting at a sentiment Ghostbear used as part of his defense, the witness said his girlfriend, the mother of the victim, was “pretty troubled.”

In March, Ghostbear’s appellate defender, Koan Mercer, filed a 39-page document detailing the reasons his client should receive a new trial.

Jurors Were Predisposed To Convict

During jury selection, before the trial began and the evidence was presented, one of the eventual jurors said she didn’t believe the victim would lie about being raped.

“The juror expressed her belief that if the girl had come as far as testifying in court, she was going to believe the girl.”

She then told the prosecutor that her belief could change depending on what she heard during the trial.

But after being questioned by the judge, the juror indicated she probably could not be fair.

From the court transcript:

Judge Daniel Boucher: “Are you telling me that your presumption is so strong that a child witness must be believed, that you could not be fair to the Defendant or the State in this case?”

Juror: “I would try to be fair, but I don’t think I could do it.”

The juror was prompted again, the brief says, and this time she said she would weigh all the evidence.

Ghostbear’s defender at the time tried to excuse this juror, but was denied by the judge. He then had to use a peremptory challenge to remove the juror.

Another problem alleged by Ghostbear’s appellate defender was that a different juror intentionally concealed his history as a sexual abuse victim.

“I was a victim of sexual abuse, but I did not disclose it when questioned because I believe it to be no one’s business,” the juror says in an affidavit.

Had the defense known about this juror’s history, the attorney would have tried to kick him off the jury as well, the appeal says.

 “When a prospective juror does not speak the truth and, instead, intentionally conceals information, that juror misconduct deprives the defendant of his ability to intelligently exercise his peremptory challenges, compromising the right to a fair and impartial jury,” the appeal brief says.  

Counsel May Have Been Denied Evidence Supporting Innocence

Ghostbear also was denied information in confidential records about the victim and her mother, his ex-girlfriend, that may have supported his innocence, the appellate brief contends.

The confidential records were filed under the titles  “Alta Care records,”(the victim), and “adult criminal history” (the mother).

The care records were about the victim’s therapeutic sessions after she accused Ghostbear of rape.

Ghostbear asks the Supreme Court to look over these records for any information that could include possible convictions the mother may have on her record, including dishonesty or false reporting; possible prior false accusation by the girl; any statements the girl may have made suggesting she was coached by her mother; any statements suggesting the girl had animosity that would incline her to falsely accuse Ghostbear; or any statement by the victim that Ghostbear molested her at a time he had a strong alibi.

“This was a close case in which any of the above information could have altered the outcome,” the defense says.

Five witnesses testified to Ghostbear’s “benign conduct” in the basement of the shelter. One of them, the church-shelter caretaker, refuted the victim’s claim that she told him of the abuse. “Instead, the allegations of abuse first arose through Mr. Ghostbear’s drunk and vengeful ex-girlfriend,” says Ghostbear’s appeal brief.

If the Supreme Court determines there is information in those confidential records that would help prove that Ghostbear didn’t rape the victim, “reversal of Mr. Ghostbear’s conviction would be required.”

Prosecutorial Misconduct

Ghosbear’s appellate defender says it is misconduct for a prosecutor to tell a jury they have personal knowledge of the case to support their position.

In this case, the prosecutor — Broadwater County Attorney Karla Mae Bosse was the lead state attorney during trial — “explicitly and personally vouched” for the state’s investigation.

She told jurors she had personal knowledge that the state had an obligation to seek justice, “which created a clear danger that the jurors adopted the prosecutor’s views instead of exercising their own independent judgment.”

The prosecutor’s conduct undermined  Ghostbear’s right to a fair trial, the appeal says.

Other Issues

Ghostbear’s defense also argues that his girlfriend, during a drunken argument in which she attacked him, accused him of cheating on her and threatened to put him in jail. She only accused him of molesting her daughter after someone called 911 on her for the drunken assault.

There was no physical evidence presented during the trial that he raped the child, a fact touted by Ghostbear’s defense during his trial and in his appeal to the Supreme Court.

There was no evidence of rape, either in the sexual assault tests or in the examination of physical evidence by the Montana State Crime Lab, defense attorneys have said.

The defense also argued that because the Supreme Court reversed a decision to sentence Ghostbear for misdemeanor sexual assault instead of a felony, Ghostbear should have had a new trial.

Initially, Ghostbear was sentenced on a misdemeanor charge in January 2014 after Judge Boucher agreed that the prosecution failed to properly present the charges to the jury. But in mid-2014, the Montana Supreme Court issued a decision saying Boucher erred in his ruling and remanded the case back to District Court.

In Closing

The Supreme Court has until June 18 to respond to Ghostbear’s request for a new trial.

As for his medical parole request, Annette Carter, the parole chair, said the board has not received an application from Ghostbear for medical parole and indicated it’s unlikely it would be considered without his completion of the Sexual Offender Program.

Speaking about the Montana State Prison’s health care, public information officer Amy Barton presented a scenario quite the opposite of Ghostbear’s description.

Barton dubbes MSP health care is “top-notch.” From the moment inmates arrive in prison, they receive the care they need, she said. The prison provides medical, dental and mental health care. The staff is accredited and there’s a 24/7 infirmary.

Medical staff is equipped to handle most anything. There are patients who receive dialysis, Barton says. And if prison medical staff have something they can’t handle, they send inmates for treatment at clinics or hospitals outside the walls.

During sentencing, a Havre Probation and Parole officer testified that his office recommended Ghostbear receive double the sentence he eventually received.

The officer cited Ghostbear’s history of legal problems, including a previous partner or family member assault and several other felony charges. And speaking to a psychosexual evaluation of Ghostbear, the officer said the man was “comfortable with dishonesty” and “operates in denial.”

Correction: This version has been corrected to say the potential juror who indicated she was inclined to believe the child before hearing evidence was eventually excused by the use of a peremptory challenge.

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Write to Paul Dragu at (406) 262-7778
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