Evergreen Teen Seeks New Homicide Trial

By Beacon Staff

An attorney for an Evergreen teenager convicted of double homicide is seeking a new trial for his client, a request that prosecutors argue lacks merit.

In February, a jury found Justine Winter, 18, guilty of deliberately killing Erin Thompson, 35, and Thompson’s son Caden Odell, 13, in a car crash on U.S. Highway 93 on March 19, 2009.

Winter’s attorney, David Stufft, filed a motion on March 4 requesting a new trial to modify the outcome of the previous trial, whether that be by finding Winter guilty of a lesser charge or not guilty at all.

In his motion filed in District Court, Stufft lists multiple reasons his client’s trial should be reconsidered, including an accusation that District Court Judge Katherine Curtis treated the defense differently than the prosecution during the two-week trial.

Stufft said that Curtis told the defense counsel to “speak” during the trial, “as in talking to a dog,” and was seen “shaking her head ‘no’ in a disapproving manner while being polite and nice to the prosecution.”

Deputy Flathead County Attorney Lori Adams filed a 15-page response to the defense’s motion on March 18, rebutting each of Stufft’s assertions. She countered that Curtis acted professionally during the trial, overruling and sustaining objections on both sides.

Stufft’s motion also contends that the defense recently found a “critical” eyewitness who says he was the first one to happen upon the crash scene and the first to approach Thompson’s wrecked Subaru.

He stated that the new testimony would “discredit” the prosecution’s eyewitness Richard Poeppel, who said in his trial testimony that he was the first on the crash scene and held Thompson until she died.

However, Adams asserted that any new evidence would have to be so crucial that it would “produce a different result upon a different trial.”

She wrote that the newly discovered witness, a man who said he saw Winter driving southbound on Highway 93, would not discredit Poeppel’s testimony because Poeppel approached the crash scene from a different direction.

The defense also alleged potential juror misconduct, stating that a juror may have communicated with a member of Thompson’s and Odell’s family during the trial. Stufft said the defense is investigating the matter.

Adams, however, countered that the defense “claims juror misconduct without a scintilla of evidence.” The defense has yet to say why it believes there was misconduct, Adams wrote, adding that the claims are “speculative.”

In a further allegation, Stufft claimed the prosecution was allowed to impeach the defense’s expert witness, Scott Curry, “on an alleged bad act,” but the defense was not allowed to impeach two Montana Highway Patrol officers the same way.

Adams argued that prosecutors were proper in their cross-examination of Curry’s qualifications, and the defense’s attempts to impeach the troopers was improper because the evidence was “in no way related to their work on this case or was done in their capacity as a Trooper.”

Other allegations in Stufft’s motion include the denial of Winter’s Sixth Amendment rights; inconsistencies in allegations from prosecutors; false statements during trial; stopping the defense from playing a previously recorded interview with Poeppel; the state changed its theory during trial, violating due process rights; the court allowed improper rebuttal by state witnesses; and the lack of factual evidence to support deliberate homicide convictions, among others.

“As a result of the irregularities in the proceedings by the Court, the State and the Jury, in the interest of justice the Court should find (Winter) not guilty, or in the alternative grant the Defendant a new trial,” Stufft wrote.

Adams contested each of Stufft’s allegations in her response to the motion, citing court transcripts and existing state law. She asked the court to deny Stufft’s request for a new trial.

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