Defense: Witness in Montana murder case was under indictment
BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — A psychologist who was the sole defense witness in a Montana first-degree murder trial had been indicted on drug charges days before she testified, a revelation that’s prompting the convicted killer’s attorneys to consider asking for a new trial.
Federal defenders representing 20-year-old defendant Dimarzio Swade Sanchez said they were unaware of the indictment. They said their client could have been acquitted or convicted of a lesser charge if another expert had testified.
Sanchez has until January 5 to ask for a new trial under a Wednesday order from U.S. District Judge Susan Watters.
He was convicted of strangling 28-year-old Roylynn Rides Horse, pouring gasoline on her and setting her on fire on the Crow Indian Reservation in June 2016.
Rides Horse survived the attack and was found 14 hours later by a passerby, but died of her injuries more than two months later.
Psychologist Teresa Hastings of Rapid City, South Dakota testified Dec. 6 at Sanchez’s trial about his mental ability to form the intent to kill Rides Horse — a key factor in determining his guilt.
She had been indicted Nov. 29 on four felony counts of illegally obtaining the sedative zolpidem, which is prescribed as a sleep aid to treat insomnia and marketed under the brand name Ambien.
Hastings is scheduled to make an initial court appearance on Dec. 28 and her attorney, Ellery Grey, says she will plead not guilty. Hastings turned herself in after learning of the accusations against her, Grey said. Court records indicate she was taken into custody December 11 and released after posting a $1,500 bond.
Sanchez’s defense team said it became aware of the indictment a day after the trial ended from a counselor who knows Hastings. Sanchez’ lawyers told a judge they wanted to review Hastings’ examinations of Sanchez to determine if there were problems with her work.
“While Dr. Hastings enjoys the presumption of innocence, the fact that she faces four drug charges at least raises the question whether Dr. Hastings was under the influence when she examined Mr. Sanchez and/or when she testified at his trial,” Assistant Federal Defender Gillian Gosch wrote in a Dec. 19 court filing.
Sanchez faces mandatory life in prison at his sentencing scheduled for March 29.
His brother, Frank, has pleaded guilty to being an accessory after the fact, and a third defendant, Angelica Jo Whiteman, has pleaded guilty to aiding and abetting first-degree murder.