Convicted murderer Richard Edwards doesn’t want forgiveness. He wants a new trial.
In an appeal to the Montana Supreme Court filed earlier this month, Edwards argues that he should be granted a new trial because a judge improperly allowed his former wife to testify against him.
Edwards, who is serving a 110-year prison sentence, also argues that his public defenders were unprepared at trial. In a third claim, Edwards says that a motion he filed after his trial about his defense attorneys was ignored.
Edwards was convicted of deliberate homicide and tampering at a trial held in March of last year. He was convicted of shooting a neighbor, Daniel Lavigne, in the head. Lavigne was found dead on his doorstep on May 13, 2002. Both men lived and worked at a hog farm near Rapelje.
Edwards wasn’t charged until 2009, after his former wife came forward to say she witnessed the slaying. The couple had split in 2005. Stillwater County District Judge Blair Jones presided over the case and at a sentencing hearing in June ordered that Edwards serve the 100-year sentence for murder, with a 50-year parole restriction. Jones ordered Edwards to serve an additional 10 years for the tampering charge.
During the sentencing hearing, Jones heard from both Edwards and Lavigne’s sister, Alice Evangelista, who said her faith allowed her to forgive Edwards.
“I want that for you,” Evangelista told Edwards. “I want you to ask forgiveness.”
Edwards spoke briefly, maintaining that he “didn’t kill this man.”
The 37-page appeal was filed on Edwards’ behalf by Missoula attorney Colin Stephens. In it, Edwards argues that a defense motion filed before trial to prevent his ex-wife from testifying against him was improperly denied by Jones.
Montana law prevents a spouse from testifying against a husband or wife without that person’s permission, the appeal states. In his ruling allowing the testimony of Sherry Edwards, the appeal states, Jones found that the spousal privilege was not valid in the case because Edwards had threatened his wife to keep her silent. “Thus, the district court determined that the reason for the rule of spousal privilege had ceased to exist,” the appeal states. “Even if the reason for the rule ceased to exist, the rule remains in place and was in place at the time of the offense.”
The appeal also takes aim at Edwards’ public defenders, David Duke and Stacy Sampson, describing the attorneys as ineffective and unprepared at trial. Sampson is especially criticized in the appeal for her cross-examination of Sherry Edwards, the state’s key witness.
Sampson said during her questioning of Sherry Edwards at trial that she would be “winging it,” the appeal states, because she did not expect the witness to testify until the next day. Sampson apologized for not being fully prepared, and told the woman in front of jurors that she would make her cross-examination “really short and sweet.”
“That Sherry’s testimony went all but unchallenged on cross-examination due to an error by the counsel constitutionally bound to protect Edwards strikes at the heart of the criminal justice system, especially since Edwards was charged with the crime deemed most serious by our society,” the appeal states.
Finally, the appeal states that after his conviction, Edwards filed his own motion to complain about the representation he received from the court-appointed attorneys. Jones failed to consider the motion, the appeal states, and instead forwarded the information with a note to the defense attorneys that they should take whatever action they deem necessary.
According to the appeal, nothing was done to consider whether Edwards’ complaint was justified.
The appeal asks the Supreme Court to order a new trial for Edwards. Prosecutors have not yet filed a response.