Montana Supreme Court affirms Roundup murder conviction

2012-10-10T09:35:00Z 2012-10-31T15:37:47Z Montana Supreme Court affirms Roundup murder convictionBy GREG TUTTLE gtuttle@billingsgazette.com The Billings Gazette

The Montana Supreme Court has upheld the murder conviction of a Roundup man who claimed he shot his neighbor in self-defense.

In an opinion issued Tuesday, the state's high court rejected claims by Bobby Joe Cooksey that he did not receive a fair trial for the July 9, 2009, death of Tracy Beardslee, who was shot while trimming weeds on a private road 12 miles southeast of Roundup.

Cooksey, 70, was convicted of deliberate homicide at a trial held in September 2010. Musselshell County District Court Judge Randal Spaulding later sentenced Cooksey to 50 years at Montana State Prison.

Cooksey appealed his conviction last November, alleging juror and prosecutorial misconduct. Cooksey was represented in the appeal by the Office of the State Public Defender.

The appeal also alleged the judge improperly excluded evidence at trial of Beardslee's use of an antidepressant drug, which the defense argued could have bolstered Cooksey's self-defense claim.  

In a final issue, the appeal alleged that law enforcement failed to properly investigate Cooksey's claim of self-defense.

Chief Justice Mike McGrath wrote the opinion for the majority, which rejected Cooksey's claims of misconduct and the improper exclusion of evidence.

McGrath said the state law regarding claims of self-defense does not impose an "independent duty" on law enforcement to find evidence to support such a claim. McGrath said the law only requires officers to disclose evidence already uncovered that may be favorable to the claim of self-defense.

"Cooksey has not pointed to any evidence that would support his defense that was not disclosed," McGrath said in the opinion.

McGrath was joined by Justices Michael Wheat, Patricia Cotter, Beth Baker and Brian Morris.

Justice James Nelson wrote a strongly-worded dissent, arguing that the majority opinion failed to properly analyze whether law enforcement in this case and a similar case conducted a proper investigation under the law passed in 2009 involving claims of self-defense.

Nelson, who was joined by Justice Jim Rice, said the majority opinion "grossly violated" the court's "solemn obligation" not to "rewrite the law to suit our 'better view' of what we think the law should be."

"It is not our prerogative to assume the role of pseudo-legislators and manipulate clear statutory mandates in order to achieve some presumed greater good," Nelson said. "When we engage in such activity, it only gives traction to those who would criticize courts and judges for rewriting laws that a coordinated branch of government has enacted."

A federal lawsuit filed by Cooksey alleging he was mistreated at the Musselshell County jail has been dismissed at his request. Cooksey said in a motion that he would refile the complaint in the future with the help of an attorney.

A separate wrongful-death lawsuit filed against Cooksey in Musselshell County District Court by Beardslee's son, Joshua Beardslee, also has been dismissed.   

Copyright 2014 The Billings Gazette. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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