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Trude requests retrial in Helena doctor's death, alleging judge was biased

From the Weekly news wrap up 12/6/19. series
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Gregg Trude is handcuffed in Lewis and Clark County Courthouse

Gregg Trude is handcuffed in the Lewis and Clark County Courthouse in October 2019, after he was sentenced for negligent homicide in the shooting death of Helena Dr. Eugene "Buzz" Walton. 

Gregg Trude, who was sentenced to prison in October for negligent homicide in the shooting death of Helena Dr. Eugene "Buzz" Walton, has asked to be released and retried, alleging the judge who presided over his case was biased.

Trude, 62, pleaded guilty to negligently placing a loaded firearm on the backseat of his truck before it discharged and killed Walton. He was found not guilty of a felony charge of tampering with or fabricating physical evidence. 

In court documents filed Friday in Lewis and Clark County District Court, Trude's new defense attorneys argue District Court Judge Michael McMahon could not have been impartial in sentencing Trude because of the judge's personal relationship with Walton. The judge disclosed the relationship during Trude's sentencing hearing. 

Walton volunteered his medical expertise on the sidelines of Capital High School football games as a team physician. According to Trude's attorneys, McMahon has been a coach for Capital High sports.

"Judge McMahon indicated Dr. Walton reminded him of his own father, who also worked as a doctor with local high school and college athletes and had died several years earlier," defense attorney Erin Inman said in an affidavit filed Friday.

Trude's team of attorneys pointed to other comments McMahon made during Trude's sentencing hearing. 

"I will tell you, Mr. Trude, that the moment in court when I had to take a break to allow Mrs. Walton to gain her composure, I knew then that if I convicted you of negligent homicide you were going to go to the Montana State Prison," McMahon said during Trude's sentencing.

The defense attorneys argue that "had (they) known about the reasons to question Judge McMahon's impartiality, (they) would have advised Mr. Trude to immediately file a notice of substitution or move for (McMahon's) disqualification."

The defense argued that a 2017 Montana Supreme Court ruling in a case involving a liability insurance company set a precedent for its argument.

A separate motion filed Friday asks that Trude be allowed to withdraw his guilty plea.

"When Trude entered his guilty plea, he did so on the assumption that his case was being heard by a fair and impartial tribunal," the motion reads.

Another motion filed Friday calls for the immediate release of Trude, who has served approximately 10 weeks of his nearly 3 1/2-year sentence to the Montana State Prison. 

"Given that all of the decisions and orders in this case were issued by a judge for whom disqualification was mandatory, those decisions and orders must now be vacated," the motion reads.

It was Oct. 21, 2018, when Walton was fatally shot in the leg by a .300 Winchester Magnum round discharged from Trude’s hunting rifle in the old K-Mart parking lot on Cedar Street, which is currently home to a U-Haul business. 

Trude told officers at the scene that Walton was removing rifles from the backseat of Trude's truck after a hunting trip when one of them went off. Trude said multiple times at the scene that he was grabbing his thermos from the driver's seat area when the gun discharged and that he did not touch or move the rifle after it fired, though he later acknowledged that he removed a shell casing from his gun after Walton was shot.


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Local Government and Crime Reporter

Nolan Lister is a reporter at the Helena Independent Record with an emphasis on local government and crime.

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