A Billings man serving a 110-year prison sentence for gunning down a woman calling 911 to report him is asking for a new trial.
Richard Douglas Reinert, convicted of deliberate homicide and sentenced in 2015, filed his appeal with the Montana Supreme Court a year ago. The state responded in October, and a ruling is expected by mid-summer.
On Dec. 21, 2013, Reinert shot and killed Jessica Stephenson in his home in the Billings Heights while she was on the phone with a 911 dispatcher. Reinert claimed self-defense. Prosecutors said Stephenson was trying to intervene on behalf of her friend, Reinert’s wife, due to Reinert’s escalating violence.
Audio from the killing was caught on the 911 call, with Stephenson telling the dispatcher that Reinert was pointing a gun at himself, before gunshots rang out. Reinert can then be heard telling his wife, “That’s right, I f—— killed her because of you.”
If the court declines to grant Reinert a new trial, he has asked the court to remand the case for re-sentencing. Prosecutors had sought 85 years in prison, but Judge Mary Jane Knisely sentenced Reinert to 110.
Reinert argues the court should have barred certain evidence used against him.
Reinert says prosecutors highlighted at sentencing recorded phone calls Reinert made to family members while in jail as a way to paint Reinert’s testimony, especially that relating to his self-defense argument, as “only self-serving lies.”
Reinert argues the recordings made him look, at worst, to have committed perjury during his trial testimony, and “at best to be an opportunistic murderer thinking out-loud about ways to formulate his defense.”
The appeal also argues that Reinert should have had access earlier on in the case to a letter calling into question the credibility of one of the state’s key witnesses, Dr. Thomas Bennett, a forensic pathologist. The letter was written by Dr. Gary Dale, the Montana state medical examiner at the time.
In its response to Reinert’s appeal, the state argued the dispute between the two medical examiners was little more than professional animus, and was known to the defense before trial. It was only the letter documenting that dispute that the defense obtained after trial.
State prosecutors also said the jail calls discussed at sentencing were important because they showed Reinert did not know, at the time of his booking, why he was there, contradicting trial testimony that he fully recalled the night he killed Stephenson. Reinert had been intoxicated.
Reinert is represented by attorney Colin M. Stephens, of Missoula. Yellowstone County Attorney Scott Twito prosecuted the case.