Two men who had been in jail for more than 23 years for murder before being acquitted in 2017, are now prosecuting three provinces and several people who investigated the murder of a woman in her family's bar and casino in Montana City in 1994 .
Federal lawsuits filed by Paul Jenkins and Freddie Joe Lawrence claim that investigators acted on a tip from a well-known liar, forced a confession of Lawrence, forced people with intellectual disability to confirm false evidence, and then failed to follow evidence that the case was pending another man linked whose DNA was eventually found to a rope near the victim's body.
Anna Benvenutti Hoffman, lawyer for Lawrence, told the Great Falls Tribune & # 39; misconduct by the police during the investigation & # 39; held two innocent men in prison and & # 39; allowed the true perpetrator to stay free and kill again & # 39 ;.
Freddie Joe Lawrence, right, is one of two men whose convictions were set aside for a 1994 murder of which he has since been convicted after more than 23 years in prison
The conviction of Paul Jenkins for 1994 was also destroyed after new evidence was discovered and it appeared that his original confession was enforced
A hearing leading to the exemption of Jenkins and Lawrence revealed that DNA testing associated the killing of Donna Meagher with David Wayne Nelson, pictured
A hearing leading to the exemption of Jenkins and Lawrence revealed that DNA testing associated the killing of Donna Meagher with David Wayne Nelson.
Meagher came to her brother The Jackson Creek Saloon's bar in Montana City on January 11, 1994 when she was murdered.
Nelson, meanwhile, is serving a life sentence in killing another man and his mother in 2015, but has not been charged in the case of Meagher.
The lawsuits mention Lewis and Clark, Jefferson and Ravalli provinces along with various investigators, including one with the State Division of Criminal Investigation.
Jenkins and Lawrence seek monetary compensation for the loss of freedom and the loss of contact with family members. Jenkins, who has diabetes, also claims damage for the loss of his legs and claims insufficient medical care.
Calls to provincial law firms in Ravalli and Jefferson provinces for comment were not sent back.
Donna Meagher, the 34-year-old mother of two, disappeared on January 11, 1994
On January 11, 1994, Donna joined her brother's bar, the Jackson Creek Saloon in Montana City, and was killed
Lewis and Clark County referred calls to the Attorney General's office, who said Wednesday that it would be inappropriate to comment on an active, open investigation.
The State's Risk Management and Tort Division, which is responsible for the defense of the former DCI agent, also declined to comment.
The complaints are based on arguments in appeals against the convictions and by the Montana Innocence Project:
– Jefferson County relied on a statement by Lawrence's father-in-law that Lawrence had known the murder, even though he described the wrong murder weapon, he was diagnosed with mental illness, had previously given the police false clues and even suggested that the investigators had maybe Meagher killed;
– Investigators questioned Lawrence, despite his request for a lawyer, until he involved Jenkins and a developmentally disabled man in the murder; Lawrence shared the next day;
– Investigators offered details and forced statements from the mentally handicapped man and from Jenkins' wife, who had dementia, and only selectively recorded parts of those conversations; the man turned out to be unsuitable for witnessing, and Mary Jenkins testified that she could not remember details of the crime.
Freddie Joe Lawrence (left), 56, and Paul Jenkins (right), 64, spent 24 years in prison after a court ruled they had killed Donna Meagher, 34, in Montana City in 1994
The lawsuit also claims that the Ravalli County authorities did not pass on the information from David Nelson, David Nelson's cousin, Fred Nelson, to Lewis and Clark or Jefferson County investigators, who told them in 1999 that his uncle had bragged about killing a casino employee with a hammer in 1994 and thought it was cool that two other men were convicted.
Officers took a photo of David Nelson's vehicle, which corresponded to the description of a car seen in the Jackson Creek Saloon the night Meagher was kidnapped, as well as a car where her body was found west of Helena, the lawsuit.
Despite the fact that the bar was robbed of a stack of $ 5 bills stamped with red stars, investigators have not responded to a report from a woman who issues a large number of $ 5 bills to a Helena department store, the lawsuit says.
District Judge Kathy Seeley left the intentional convictions of Lawrence and Jenkins in April 2018 after taking cognizance of the DNA evidence, the testimonials of Fred Nelson and the department store employee.
Seeley rejected the charges against both men in June 2018.
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