Judge rules against Darby woman appealing conviction in husband's murder

2011-12-08T10:15:00Z Judge rules against Darby woman appealing conviction in husband's murderBy PERRY BACKUS Ravalli Republic The Billings Gazette
December 08, 2011 10:15 am  • 

HAMILTON -- For the second time, a court has ruled against a Darby woman convicted in 2008 of murdering her husband.

Ann Marie Stout was convicted of shooting her husband, Bill, in the head while he slept at the couple's Darby home on June 2, 2007, and was sentenced to life in prison.

The Montana Supreme Court affirmed her conviction and sentence in June 2010.

Last April, Stout filed a petition for post-conviction relief, contending that the court made mistakes at trial in admitting evidence and that her counsel was inadequate.

Ravalli County District Judge Jeffrey Langton has now ruled that all four of Stout's claims in the petition were either procedurally barred, without merit or both.

Montana allows someone convicted of a crime to challenge the validity of a sentence after the initial appeal process has run its course.

In her petition, Stout challenged the court for allowing evidence that she fabricated emails and letters from a woman with whom her husband had a brief affair.

Langton's ruling said that evidence was central to the case against Stout.

After learning in 2005 about her husband's affair, Langton said evidence showed that Stout executed a comprehensive plan to shame her husband and paint the other woman as a deranged stalker, with the ultimate goal of ensuring the woman would be a suspect in Bill Stout's murder.

"After Stout's husband was found shot to death, Stout and both her children reported to law enforcement that (Barbara) Miller had been stalking the family," Langton wrote. "It is difficult to conceive a set of circumstances in which such evidence could be more inextricably linked to and explanatory of the charged conduct."

Stout's petition also claimed her attorney had been ineffective in limiting the scope on which that evidence could be considered by the jury.

In her petition, Stout claimed that she was denied a fair trial because the disputed evidence was admitted "when it cannot be established that (she) had anything to do with the emails, letters, etc."

Langton disagreed, saying there was evidence presented at trial indicating that email accounts in the name of Barbara Miller had been created on Stout's home computer and on one at her place of employment.

In addition, only Stout's DNA was found on the adhesive of an envelope posted from Arkansas that purported to be from Miller, Langton wrote.

Stout also argued her main defense that her husband committed suicide was not raised by the attorney charged with presenting her appeal the Montana Supreme Court.

If that issue had been raised, Stout claimed she could have won because the trial evidence was insufficient to show that she had murdered her husband.

Langton wrote in his decision to deny Stout's appeal that evidence that her husband committed suicide was scant, at best, and contradicted by a number of facts, including:

• Stout's husband was shot through the back of the head while lying on his bed.

• His body was moved in the bed after his death.

• Drops of blood were found under the sheet that covered him.

• The gun was nowhere near the bed where he was shot, or even in the bedroom.

• This evidence was acknowledged, unchallenged and, notably, unexplained by the defense.

Stout can appeal Langton's decision to the Montana Supreme Court.

 

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