A murder charge twice filed against a Billings woman accused of shooting a Wyoming man has again been dismissed, this time after a judge said state prosecutors violated the woman's right to a speedy trial.
Carbon County District Judge Blair Jones issued the written order Monday dismissing the deliberate homicide charge against Bianca Wilson, who was accused of shooting Justin Marchant in September 2004. The judge ordered the charge dismissed with prejudice, meaning prosecutors cannot refile the charge against her.
"We think the court made a wise and just decision," said one of Wilson's defense attorneys, Raymond Kuntz.
Jones granted a defense motion to dismiss the charge against Wilson in a 21-page ruling. Jones said the defense successfully proved that the state violated Wilson's right to a speedy trial. The finding was based on a four-part review the case that included the length of time between Wilson's arrest and the trial date, the reason for the delay, Wilson's response to the delay and the prejudice Wilson suffered as a result of the delay.
The judge said Wilson proved that each legal factor weighed in her favor.
Jones said he did not reach the decision lightly, and is aware "of both the serious nature of the offense charged and the ramifications of a dismissal with prejudice for everyone involved."
But Jones said he is "obligated to preserve the vitality of the constitutional guarantee of the right to speedy trial."
Wilson was first charged with Marchant's murder on Sept. 17, 2004, three days after the 30-year-old Wyoming man's body was found on a rural road near the Montana state line. The charge was dismissed without prejudice seven months later, on April 27, 2005, at the request of state prosecutors who said they did not have enough evidence to convict her.
On the day the murder charge was dismissed, Wilson and Jesus Villarreal Jr. were charged in Yellowstone County District Court with felony tampering on allegations that they hid and cleaned blood from the car where Marchant was shot. Prosecutors have alleged that Villarreal was driving with Wilson in the front passenger seat and Marchant in the back seat when the shooting happened.
Wilson eventually was convicted at trial on the tampering charge and was sentenced to five years in prison. She continues to serve that sentence at the Montana Women's Prison.
Assistant Attorney General Barbara Harris refiled the murder charge against Wilson on May 29, 2008, saying new evidence had surfaced against Wilson to justify the murder prosecution. A trial date was then set for Dec. 8, 2008.
In his ruling, Jones said that on Dec. 5, just a few days before trial, state officials delivered 600 pages of crime lab evidence to Wilson's defense attorneys. Wilson's attorneys said they were forced to ask for a delay in order to review the records. A new trial date was set for April 20.
In his order, Jones explained that a delay of 200 days prompts a legal analysis of a speedy trial violation. In this case, the trial was delayed a total of 548 days, a delay the judge attributed entirely to the prosecution. He chastised the prosecution for failing to provide Wilson's defense team with evidence they needed to review before trial.
"Why the state would allow this issue to arise given the importance attached to the (defense) attorneys' ability to properly prepare and represent a person charged with deliberate homicide mystifies the Court," Jones wrote in the ruling.
Harris could not be reached for comment Monday afternoon.
Kuntz said Wilson's sentence will end in 2011, but she may be granted parole sometime before completing her five-year term. Kuntz said the evidence he has reviewed points to someone other than Wilson as the killer.
"I truly believe it was not Bianca who shot him," Kuntz said.