Court proceedings are on hold while the Montana Supreme Court decides whether to reverse a lower court’s decision not to drop charges against a second man accused in the 1987 rape of a child.
The trial of Ronald Dwight Tipton, who is suspected of raping an 8-year-old in her Billings home in 1987, had been set for Dec. 11.
Judge Mary Jane Knisely denied a defense motion to dismiss charges against Tipton on Nov. 3.
Tipton then filed a petition with the state Supreme Court to reverse the District Court decision and dismiss the case with prejudice on Nov. 8.
The state has until Jan. 5 to file its response, the court ruled after the state filed for an extension.
Jimmy Ray Bromgard was convicted in the case in 1987 and sentenced to 40 years in prison. DNA testing exonerated him in 2002, after he had served 15 years.
Tipton did not surface as the new suspect until 2014, when DNA samples he gave as part of a drug possession charge in Meagher County made a hit on the rape evidence entered in a DNA database. Tipton was charged with three counts of sexual intercourse without consent in 2015.
Tipton’s attorney had asked for the charges to be dismissed, citing the five-year statute of limitations in effect when the crime was committed. He also said a state law on DNA evidence leveraged by prosecutors conflicts with a 2003 ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court that barred the use of new, and more expansive, laws regarding when a person can be charged from applying retroactively.
But Knisely ruled that the Tipton case is different from the Supreme Court case in question, Stogner v. California. That’s because it entails DNA evidence that was not available previously, and there was no delay in reporting by victims.
Knisely also found that the state DNA law, passed in 2007, was intended to apply retroactively in order to prosecute cold cases, and that failing to apply the state law retroactively would be a “manifest injustice.”