Kalispell Man, Wrongly Jailed for 15 years, Seeks $16.5 Million

By Beacon Staff

BILLINGS (AP) – The state of Montana has spent more than $1 million defending a lawsuit brought by a former Billings man, currently of Kalispell, who spent 15 years in prison for a crime he did not commit.

No trial date has been set in the three-year-old suit brought by Jim Bromgard. Two settlement conferences have been held and a third is scheduled for Dec. 7 before U.S. Magistrate Judge Keith Strong in Great Falls. Strong encouraged the parties to exchange settlement offers before mediation.

Bromgard is seeking $16.5 million in damages, claiming the defendants were negligent and violated his constitutional rights. Named as defendants are the state, former Attorney General Mike Greely, former state crime lab director Arnold Melnikoff, Yellowstone County and commissioners Jim Reno, Bill Kennedy and John Ostlund.

A jury convicted Bromgard in 1987 of raping an 8-year-old girl in Billings, and a judge sentenced him to 40 years in prison. Melnikoff’s testimony on hair analysis helped convict Bromgard, but was later discredited by a panel of national forensic experts.

Bromgard served 15 years before DNA tests showed he did not commit the crime. Bromgard was exonerated and was released from prison in 2002. He filed the lawsuit two years later.

The Williams Law Firm of Missoula is representing the state. As of Sept. 20, the state had paid $755,169 in attorney fees; $43,548 for reimbursement of costs; and $249,073 in expert witness fees and costs. The state also has incurred fees and costs totaling $38,065 from the Department of Justice’s Agency Legal Services Bureau. The total is about $1.1 million.

The costs are being paid by the state’s self-insurance program, said Brett Dahl, administrator of the Risk Management and Tort Defense Division of the Department of Administration.

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