The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals has overturned the murder conviction of a Wolf Point man serving a life sentence.
Robert Darryl War Club, 50, was convicted of first-degree murder for killing Richard Green on April 20, 2006. War Club, a former investigator for the Fort Peck Tribes, was sentenced to life in prison after a four-day trial in Great Falls last year. The 9th Circuit reversed the conviction on Thursday and ordered a new trial for War Club.
According to the appeal, the court ruled that the limited cross examination of Green's brother during the trial precluded War Club from developing evidence that Green's brother had a motive to commit the murder.
The court thereby deprived War Club of the “meaningful opportunity to present a complete defense.”
“Comparing the trial that War Club actually had with the trial he should have had, we conclude that the constitutional error was not harmless beyond a reasonable doubt,” the ruling states.
War Club will remain in federal custody for the second trial. Fort Peck Tribal Criminal Investigator Kenny Trottier, who was the lead detective on the case, said he is disappointed the case will have to go back to court, but he is confident there will be another conviction.
In court, the government presented a largely circumstantial case, which included microscopic fibers found on Green's body that belonged to War Club and the murder weapon, a red butterfly knife, which also belonged to War Club.
At the trial, War Club's defense presented the theory that Richard Comes Last committed the murder at the direction of Green's brother. To support this defense theory, War Club established that Comes Last was at the scene on the morning of the murder because Green asked him for help inflating a car tire, that Green's body was found adjacent to a portable air tank and on top of a hose connected to an air compressor, and that Comes Last knew the location of a remote control that could have been used to close the door to the garage where Green was killed, court documents state.
During his opening statement, War Club's defense counsel promised to complete the picture by showing that Green's brother had motive for the killing: revenge. War Club's defense tried to introduce this information from Green's brother during his cross examination, but the government objected and it was sustained by U.S. District Judge Sam Haddon.