BOZEMAN (AP) – A former Montana State basketball player charged with murder pointed to his co-defendant as the one who pulled the trigger, according to transcripts of police interrogations unsealed Wednesday.
Branden Miller, 23, is charged with murder, kidnapping and tampering with evidence stemming from the June 2006 shooting death of Jason Wright, 26. Wright has been identified by police as a cocaine dealer.
According to the transcripts, Miller repeatedly told detectives that he didn’t pull the trigger — pointing the blame at co-defendant John Lebrum, a former redshirt MSU football player who faces the same charges.
“He (Lebrum) heard that Jason has a lot of money … so I guess he wanted to rob him or something,” Miller said.
Lebrum’s attorney, Al Avignone, said: “Miller’s statements blaming our client, John Lebrum, for the shooting are absolutely denied by Mr. Lebrum and are not supported by the evidence.
“The United States Supreme Court has repeatedly recognized that blame-shifting statements by somebody accused of a crime are inherently unreliable,” Avignone said Thursday. “The Montana statutes say the same thing — they are to be viewed with distrust.”
The interrogation records did not reveal much of Wright’s side of the story that had not been released in July 2006, shortly after the charges were filed. An autopsy showed Wright had been beaten and shot 10 times, twice in the head.
Investigators have said Miller bought two .40-caliber handguns from a Bozeman pawn shop on June 6, 2006. A detective testified at a recent hearing that Miller’s gun was the murder weapon and that it had Wright’s blood on it, but that Miller’s DNA was not found at any of the crime scenes.
During his interrogation, Miller told detectives that he helped Lebrum cover up Wright’s homicide by hiding the guns, throwing away some of Wright’s belongings and helping clean blood from Wright’s vehicle because he felt threatened. He told police that he didn’t witness the shooting, although he said he witnessing Wright’s kidnapping, according to the transcripts.
“I wasn’t there when it happened, I just … he just … I seen the way he started like beating Jason up,” Miller told detectives.
Avignone asked that the public “reserve judgment, as the court will ask them to do, until the trial.”
The Bozeman Daily Chronicle filed a motion in November asking for the release of Miller’s police interviews. District Judge Mike Salvagni, who released the transcripts Wednesday, had previously ruled that the interviews would be admissible at trial.
Salvagni hasn’t ruled whether Lebrum’s police interview will be admissible. The transcript of that interview remains sealed.
Miller’s trial is set for Jan. 22, and Lebrum’s is scheduled for April.
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