Hearing begins to determine if 2 men wrongly convicted in 1994 m – kbzk.com continuous news bozeman, montana data recovery clean room

HELENA – in a courtroom that was standing room only, two men convicted of the 1994 beating death of donna meagher and the robbery of the jackson creek saloon, are asking a district judge to set them free.

Defense lawyers, along with the montana innocence project say new DNA evidence clears paul jenkins and fred lawrence of the crime. The innocence project maintains the case falls directly under montana’s DNA exoneration statute, asking that both jenkins and lawrence be released right away.

The legal team for jenkins and lawrence first called a DNA expert to the stand at the beginning of friday’s hearing with dr. Greg hampikian from boise state university telling judge seeley what the DNA evidence in the case told him.Judge seeley

The DNA in question was found on a piece of rope on colorado gulch road, near where donna meagher’s body was found.

Blood from meagher was also found by that rope.

Dr. Hampikian said DNA found on that rope belongs to david wayne nelson. Nelson has a lengthy and violent criminal record. He’s currently serving time at the state prison for a double homicide in deer lodge county two years ago. In that case, the victims were beaten to death with a hammer.

“I do a lot of cases,” said hampikian. “this is the second time I can remember one of my cases where it cleared two men and someone else is a hit to the database.”

In a surprising move, the lawyers for lawrence and jenkins called david nelson to the witness stand.Told court he entered the courtroom wearing shackles and a prison jumpsuit. After he was sworn in, judge seeley read him his rights.

“you understand that anything you say in this courtroom could be used against you in a criminal case at a later time,” said seeley. “do you understand that?”

Shortly after defense lawyers began questioning nelson, he said he wanted to speak to a lawyer. After a brief recess where nelson spoke with a court-appointed defense attorney, he exercised his right to silence and was taken back to the state prison.

Nelson’s nephew fred testified next. He told judge seeley as he grew up david was grooming him to be a criminal. In fact, david and fred were convicted of a home invasion robbery in hamilton that took place in 1998.Judge seeley

The younger nelson told the court that he and his uncle would go for drives, drink and “party”. It was then that his uncle would brag about his “capers” as he called them, including the 1994 incident at the jackson creek saloon.

“he abducted her, robbed the casino, took her to a road outside of helena, said he was going to let her go, got out of the car,” said fred nelson.

“she said it was cold out, he walked her to the back of the car and said ‘I have a sweater in the trunk of the car.’ he opened the trunk and he said he pulled out a hammer and hit her in the head with a hammer.”

Montana department of criminal investigation special agent jeff vitatoe told the court he was appointed to the donna meagher murder investigation eight weeks ago.Judge seeley he confirmed that david nelson is a suspect in this case.

In testimony that bolstered the state’s case against lawrence and jenkins, agent vitatoe told the court he’s interviewed a former state prison cellmate of lawrence, jeffrey knapp. According to knapp, lawrence told him details of meagher’s death.

Also at today’s hearing, assistant attorney general mary cochenhour questioned vitatoe regarding the state’s case back in 1995, when lawrence and jenkins were convicted in two separate trials by two separate juries.