Montana Innocence Project appealing Trout Creek man’s life sentence
September 17, 2012 7:15 am • By TRISTAN SCOTT of the Missoulian
POLSON – For 15 years, Richard Raugust has insisted that he did not commit the murder of his best friend, Joe Tash, whose body was discovered early in the morning of July 24, 1997, inside his camper trailer near Trout Creek. He had apparently been shot in the head in cold blood.
Raugust was arrested several hours later while painting a house nearby. Witnesses described him as “dumbfounded” when police arrived and explained that he was under arrest for the murder of his friend.
The following spring, Raugust’s deliberate homicide case was tried before a Lake County District Court jury, which came to an impasse and remained deadlocked for 10 hours, but eventually returned with a verdict of guilty. Raugust was given a life sentence in the Montana State Prison in Deer Lodge, where the 46-year-old inmate is still incarcerated.
Now the Montana Innocence Project is appealing Raugust’s conviction, saying that powerful new evidence implicates another killer, and that if Raugust were granted a new trial, a jury would agree.
“In light of these significant showings, it is clear that a jury would likely reach a different conclusion,” according to the group’s petition for post-conviction relief, filed last month in Lake County District Court.
In its petition, the group says the “coercive jury instruction” amounts to a constitutional and procedural error, and merits a new trial.
Data Report: More Than 2,000 False Convictions In Past 23 Years They Allot
Over 10,000 Years!
Facts on Post-Conviction DNA Exonerations From The Innocence Project
There have been 297 post-conviction DNA exonerations in the United States.
• The first DNA exoneration took place in 1989. Exonerations have been won in36 states; since 2000, there have been 230 exonerations.
• 17 of the 297 people exonerated through DNA served time on death row. Another 15 were charged with capital crimes but not sentenced to death.
• The average length of time served by exonerees is 13 years. The total number of years served is approximately 3,944.
• The average age of exonerees at the time of their wrongful convictions was 27.
Races of the 297 exonerees:
186 African Americans
2 Asian American
4 whose race is unknown
• The true suspects and/or perpetrators have been identified in 146 of the DNA exoneration cases.
• Since 1989, there have been tens of thousands of cases where prime suspects were identified and pursued—until DNA testing (prior to conviction) proved that they were wrongly accused.
• In more than 25 percent of cases in a National Institute of Justice study, suspects were excluded once DNA testing was conducted during the criminal investigation (the study, conducted in 1995, included 10,060 cases where testing was performed by FBI labs).
• 60 percent of the people exonerated through DNA testing have been financially compensated. 27 states, the federal government, and the District of Columbia have passed laws to compensate people who were wrongfully incarcerated. Awards under these statutes vary from state to state.
• An Innocence Project review of our closed cases from 2004 – 2010 revealed that 22 percent of cases were closed because of lost or destroyed evidence.
According to The Innocence Project these are the causes that can lead to a wrongful conviction.
Eyewitness misidentification is the single greatest cause of wrongful convictions nationwide, playing a role in nearly 75% of convictions overturned through DNA testing.
While eyewitness testimony can be persuasive evidence before a judge or jury, 30 years of strong social science research has proven that eyewitness identification is often unreliable. Research shows that the human mind is not like a tape recorder; we neither record events exactly as we see them, nor recall them like a tape that has been rewound. Instead, witness memory is like any other evidence at a crime scene; it must be preserved carefully and retrieved methodically, or it can be contaminated.
Unreliable or Improper Forensic Science
Since the late 1980s, DNA analysis has helped identify the guilty and exonerate the innocent nationwide. While DNA testing was developed through extensive scientific research at top academic centers, many other forensic techniques — such as hair microscopy, bite mark comparisons, firearm tool mark analysis and shoe print comparisons — have never been subjected to rigorous scientific evaluation. Meanwhile, forensics techniques that have been properly validated — such as serology, commonly known as blood typing — are sometimes improperly conducted or inaccurately conveyed in trial testimony. In some cases, forensic analysts have fabricated results or engaged in other misconduct.
In about 25% of DNA exoneration cases, innocent defendants made incriminating statements, delivered outright confessions or pled guilty.
These cases show that confessions are not always prompted by internal knowledge or actual guilt, but are sometimes motivated by external influences.
False Confessions & Recording Of Custodial Interrogations
How could someone confess to a crime one didn’t commit?
Over 25 percent of the more than 290 wrongful convictions overturned by DNA evidence in the U.S. have involved some form of a false confession. Yet it’s virtually impossible to fathom why a person would wrongly confess to a crime he or she did not commit. Researchers who study this phenomenon have determined that the following factors contribute to or cause false confessions:
• Real or perceived intimidation of the suspect by law enforcement
• Use of force by law enforcement during the interrogation, or perceived threat of force
• Compromised reasoning ability of the suspect, due to exhaustion, stress, hunger, substance use, and, in some cases, mental limitations, or limited education
• Devious interrogation techniques, such as untrue statements about the presence of incriminating evidence
• Fear, on the part of the suspect, that failure to confess will yield a harsher punishment
How to prevent “false confessions” from leading to wrongful convictions
• The entire interrogation – during the time in which a reasonable person in the subject’s position would consider himself to be in custody and a law enforcement officer’s questioning is likely to elicit incriminating responses – should be electronically recorded. This is simply the only way to create an objective record of what transpired during the course of the interrogation process.
• In cases where law enforcement failed to make a recording, at minimum, a mandatory instruction should be given to the jury, directing them to disregard the confession if they believe it was coerced. Ideally, the judge should suppress “confessions” that were not recorded or improperly recorded so that they are not heard by jurors.
The practice of recording of interrogations can be implemented in one of three ways:
• Via legislation
• By action of the highest court in a particular jurisdiction
• Through adoption of policies by individual police departments
An important note about videotaping interrogations is that it is only a reform when the videocamera is either focused upon both the interrogator and the suspect or when focused solely upon the interrogator. Research indicates that when the videocamera is fixed only upon the suspect, the problem of false confession is exacerbated, prompting jurors to disregard the appearance of the interrogator and conclude that the confession was given freely.
Do states legislate the electronic recording of interrogations?
To date, Connecticut, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon, Wisconsin, and the District of Columbia have enacted legislation requiring the recording of custodial interrogations. State supreme courts have taken action in Alaska, Iowa, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Hampshire and New Jersey. Approximately 840 jurisdictions have voluntarily adopted recording policies.
Electronic Recording of Interrogations: A Boon to Both the Innocent and to Law Enforcement
The mandated electronic recording of the entire interrogation process protects the innocent, ensures the admissibility of legitimate confessions, and helps law enforcement defend against allegations of coercion.
Electronic Recording of Interrogations helps the innocent by:
• Creating a record of the entire interrogation, including the interaction leading up to the confession;
• Ensuring that the suspect’s rights are protected in the interrogation process;
• Creating a deterrent against improper or coercive techniques that might be employed absent the presence of a recording device.
Electronic Recording of Interrogations assists law enforcement by:
• Preventing disputes about how an officer conducted himself or treated a suspect;
• Creating a record of statements made by the suspect, making it difficult for a defendant to change an account of events originally provided to law enforcement;
• Permitting officers to concentrate on the interview, rather than being distracted by copious note-taking during the course of the interrogation;
• Capturing subtle details that may be lost if unrecorded, which helps law enforcement better investigate the crime; and
• Enhancing public confidence in law enforcement, while reducing the number of citizen complaints against the police.
Case in Point: Chris Ochoa, Texas Exoneree
In 1988, a woman was raped and murdered at an Austin, Texas Pizza Hut restaurant where she worked. Based on a hunch that the crime was committed by a Pizza Hut employee with a master key, police began questioning employees of the chain restaurant. Chris Ochoa and his roommate, Richard Danziger, worked at a different Austin area Pizza Hut, but became the main suspects when they were observed drinking beer and appearing to toast the victim. Mr. Ochoa and Mr. Danziger were subsequently convicted of the crime. Both convictions grew out of a false confession by Mr. Ochoa. It was later discovered that his confession was coerced and that interrogators had threatened him with the death penalty. Years after their convictions, letters detailing the crime were sent to the police, to then-Governor George W. Bush’s office, and the District Attorney’s Office. The author of the letters, Achim Marino, had apparently undergone a religious conversion while in prison on three other convictions, and felt obligated to confess to the Pizza Hut rape/murder. The DNA evidence from the original crime scene was retested. It exculpated both Mr. Ochoa and Mr. Danziger, while implicating Mr. Marino. Had Mr. Ochoa’s initial “confession” been taped, jurors, at the subsequent trial, would have had an opportunity to assess the circumstances under which his confession was made.
Some wrongful convictions are caused by honest mistakes. But in far too many cases, the very people who are responsible for ensuring truth and justice — law enforcement officials and prosecutors — lose sight of these obligations and instead focus solely on securing convictions.
The cases of wrongful convictions uncovered by DNA testing are filled with evidence of negligence, fraud or misconduct by prosecutors or police departments.
In more than 15% of wrongful conviction cases overturned through DNA testing, an informant testified against the defendant at the original trial. Often, statements from people with incentives to testify — particularly incentives that are not disclosed to the jury — are the central evidence in convicting an innocent person.
The resources of the justice system are often stacked against poor defendants. Matters only become worse when a person is represented by an ineffective, incompetent or overburdened defense lawyer. The failure of overworked lawyers to investigate, call witnesses or prepare for trial has led to the conviction of innocent people. When a defense lawyer doesn’t do his or her job, the defendant suffers. Shrinking funding and access to resources for public defenders and court-appointed attorneys is only making the problem worse.
- It is the only moral thing to do with the high incarceration rates in the United States that we look into these cases. There are over 2.3 million inmates and over 7 million within our DOC system. Something is not right America. We cannot continue to use people as a money making machine by locking up citizens that do not belong there.