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Man wrongfully convicted of killing gets $5M settlement

by Associated Press
| January 4, 2023 12:00 AM

BOZEMAN (AP) — A former western Montana man who was wrongfully convicted of killing his best friend in 1997 and spent 18 years in prison has reached a $5 million settlement with the state and Sanders County, a Bozeman law firm announced.

Richard Raugust has said that on the night his friend Joe Tash was killed, he had spent the night in the town of Trout Creek because he had to work early in the morning. Tash and others had gone out to a campsite where they had been living, and where the shooting occurred, Raugust said.

Raugust contacted the Montana Innocence Project in 2009 to help him overturn his conviction.

Investigators learned that the trial's star witnesses had told other people that he — not Raugust — shot and killed Tash. They also learned that a sheriff's deputy failed to let the defense know that he had seen a car carrying Tash, Raugust and a third man stop long enough after leaving a bar for a person to have gotten out of the vehicle, which is what Raugust said he did.

The jury foreperson said after 10 hours of deliberation the judge urged them to reach a verdict because it would be too costly for the county to hold another trial. She said she felt pressured to convict Raugust even though she had doubts about his guilt.

Raugust's convictions were overturned in November 2015 and the state dropped the charges nearly a year later, saying they could not be refiled.

Raugust then brought a civil claim, initially seeking $97 million. The settlement was announced Wednesday by the Blackford Carls law firm. The firm would not say how much of the $5 million Raugust will receive.

It's not clear if Sanders County is pursuing charges against the trial's star witness in Tash's death. The county attorney's office declined to comment to the Montana State News Bureau.

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