Sketch and Tipton

Police sketch from 1987 and a 2014 Department of Corrections mug shot of Ronald Tipton, who has been summoned to appear on three rape charges from 1987.

A man charged in 2015 with the rape of an 8-year-old girl 28 years earlier is seeking a dismissal of his case as a new trial date nears.

Ronald Dwight Tipton, 56, is facing trial for three counts of sexual intercourse without consent allegedly committed in 1987. DNA evidence linked Tipton to the crime in 2014, after he was arrested on another matter.

That same DNA evidence exonerated Jimmy Ray Bromgard in 2002. Bromgard, who was 18 at the time of the crime, was convicted in November 1987 and sentenced to 40 years in prison.

With help from the National Innocence Project, the DNA test confirmed that Bromgard was not a match for semen samples taken from the girl's underwear. He was freed from prison in October 2002.

In 2014, Montana State Crime Lab analysts got a lead on a match from the victim's underwear with DNA from Tipton. The sample from Tipton was indexed after his 2014 conviction for drug possession in Meagher County.

The DNA match was confirmed by the lab in January 2015, court documents state, and prosecutors charged Tipton that fall.

Tipton pleaded not guilty to the three counts in December 2015 and was released on his own recognizance. His drug possession sentence expired in the spring of 2016.

Prosecutors were able to charge Tipton in the first place after a 2007 law was passed allowing charges for sex crimes for up to one year after a new DNA match turns up.

Tipton's attorney filed a motion to dismiss the case on March 17, 2017, arguing that because the statute of limitations had passed prior to the 2007 law, the charges were unfairly retroactive.

"Where an amendment to a statute of limitations extends the period of prosecution, it cannot do so for cases in which the original statute had already expired," wrote Robert Stephens, Jr., Tipton's attorney, in his brief.

For rape cases, the statute of limitations is 10 years after the victim's 18th birthday if the victim was under that age during the crime. In this case, the girl turned 18 in 1996, ending the prosecution window in 2006.

Prosecutors have not yet responded to the motion. The statute created by the 2007 amendment does account for DNA testing "after a time period prescribed in (statute of limitations) has expired."

Trial date is tentatively set for June 19.

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General Assignment Reporter

Reporter for The Billings Gazette.