In 2012, a juror in the case of Edward Ghostbear listened as then-District Judge Daniel Boucher explained that the prosecution would want to know if jurors or their friends or family had ever been sexually assaulted.
The judge listed several other related subjects the attorneys would want to know about. He gave the prospective jurors time to think about it and asked them to either say something in open court or meet with him in chambers.
But the juror felt the incident had left no lasting mark on his life and would not affect his ability to make a fair judgment in the case of Ghostbear, who was on trial for allegedly raping a 7-year-old girl.
The juror and his 11 colleagues heard the testimony in Hill County District Court and voted unanimously to convict Ghostbear.
Boucher later sentenced Ghostbear to five years behind bars.
Now, Ghostbear’s lawyer is arguing that the verdict should be overturned because the juror did not reveal his past sexual abuse, in addition to other reasons.
But Montana Attorney General Tim Fox, in papers filed earlier this month, says that is an insufficient reason to set aside the verdict.
Ghostbear is asking for a new trial.
That request is one of two ways he is trying to get out of jail. Ghostbear is also asking the parole board to release him early because of his deteriorating medical condition.
But state corrections officials are refusing to release him early because he has not participated in sex offender treatment programs. He won’t do that because he would first have to admit to the sexual assault. He maintains his innocence.
“The parole board is not going to let a non-treated sex offender back into the community,” Parole Board Chair Annette Carter has told the Herald.
Regarding his health condition, a Montana State Prison spokesperson said inmates receive comprehensive, “top-notch” health care and the medical staff is fully equipped to handle all manner of ills.
The attorney general’s office, which is handling prosecution of the case, argued that even if the juror’s decision not to reveal his sexual abuse was “intentional concealment,” Boucher was correct in denying the new trial solely for that reason.
Ghostbear, in early 2012, was arrested for raping a young girl in the basement of the now-closed Branded by Fire Ministries building, the old Salvation Army chapel on Second Street in Havre.
People had gathered for services in the chapel on the first floor, then came downstairs to where there were rooms and places for the homeless to stay.
After the crowd left, Ghostbear raped the young girl, Havre police alleged.
The judge should have dismissed a second juror “with cause,” the defense argued, but he didn’t. That prospective juror gave conflicting answers when asked if she could be fair in the cases, at one point saying she couldn’t imagine the young girl making up the story, but insisting she could be fair after listening to both sides.
The attorney general’s legal papers argue that the judge is the best person to determine if a juror can be impartial, and said Boucher was the person to decide that the prospective juror would be fair.
In any case, the defendant’s attorney used his authority to dismiss the juror. The defense can remove prospective jurors without offering a reason to the judge. Lawyers are usually limited to six such “peremptory challenges,” but Boucher gave the lawyers eight peremptory in this case.
Removing that juror cost the defense one of its eight options.
Editor’s Note: For more background on this story, read Two Roads To Freedom: A Man Convicted Of Rape In Havre Maintains His Innocence
Email John Kelleher at firstname.lastname@example.org