Court Rejects Appeal in 2005 Student-Loan Murders Near Ronan

Supreme Court Ruling

HELENA – A divided Montana Supreme Court has rejected the appeal of a man serving two life terms for planning to kill a man and rob him of $200 in student loan money.

Jeremiah Green was sentenced for his role in the Feb. 3, 2005 shooting deaths of Gerald Sirucek and Catherine Madplume at a house party near Ronan.

A co-defendant testified that Green came up with the plot to kill Sirucek.

On Tuesday, the Montana Supreme Court voted 4-2 to reject Green’s appeal.

Green, now 23, argued he’d had ineffective counsel at trial; that the trial court improperly admitted evidence of Green’s prior statement that he would like to kill the victim; and that the trial judge improperly overruled Green’s objection when the prosecutor offered a personal opinion on the credibility of a witness during closing arguments.

Troy McDonald, who is developmentally disabled, pleaded guilty to shooting both victims. He said Green came up with the plot to kill Sirucek to rob him and that Madplume was killed so she wouldn’t go to police.

“I wouldn’t have done it unless he (Green) asked me to,” McDonald testified at Green’s trial.

Justice Jim Rice wrote the majority opinion affirming Green’s conviction and sentence. It was joined by Justices John Warner, W. William Leaphart and Brian Morris.

Chief Justice Mike McGrath, who was Montana’s attorney general when the case was tried and appealed, did not participate in the ruling.

Writing in dissent, Justice James C. Nelson said that Green’s conviction should be reversed and the case remanded for a new trial because Green did establish he had ineffective trial counsel.

Nelson said that, as a matter of law, the jury should have been instructed that it should view the testimony of McDonald, an accomplice, with distrust; and that Green’s counsel was legally obligated to seek that instruction from the court.

“McDonald’s credibility was critical to the state’s case, and Green’s defense hinged to a great extent on the jury not believing McDonald. Yet, Green’s counsel did not request the one instruction that would have required the jury to view McDonald’s testimony with distrust,” Nelson wrote.

Justice Patricia O. Cotter joined in Nelson’s dissent.

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