POLSON — A man convicted in the July 2005 death of a former Confederated Salish and Kootenai tribal chairman has been granted a new trial after a judge ruled his confession was not given voluntarily. However, the decision may leave the state without enough evidence to proceed.
“Without (Clifford Oldhorn’s) statements, and without other evidence, it wouldn’t be practical to attempt to re-try him,” Deputy Lake County Attorney Jessica Cole-Hodgkinson told the Missoulian.
Oldhorn is again charged with deliberate homicide in the death of Harold Mitchell Jr., whose body was found in a burned trailer house. An autopsy found his carotid artery had been cut.
Oldhorn is scheduled to appear before McNeil in Polson on Wednesday for a bond hearing. Cole-Hodgkinson said she will ask for bail to be set at $500,000.
Oldhorn was first convicted of deliberate homicide in August 2011 and sentenced to 100 years in prison for his alleged role in Mitchell’s death.
He appealed, saying prosecutors used statements he made to law enforcement while believing he had immunity from prosecution. The Supreme Court ordered District Judge C.B. McNeil to hold a hearing on whether the statements were given voluntarily.
His appeal argued that officers told him he would not be deemed a participant merely for entering Mitchell’s house. However, Oldhorn was charged under the felony murder law, in which a person can be charged with a homicide that occurs during the commission of another felony.
On Jan. 15, McNeil ruled the statements Oldhorn made in April 2008 must be suppressed because they were made after Oldhorn reasonably believed he had immunity from prosecution. McNeil’s ruling notes that officers conducted one interview a week after prosecutors had charged Oldhorn with deliberate homicide, but before Oldhorn had been notified of the charge.
Lake County last week filed notice of its intent to appeal of McNeil’s Jan. 15 ruling.
Even if Oldhorn can’t be retried, he will remain on probation through at least 2035 for a 2005 case in which he was convicted of burglary, theft and deceptive practices. He was in prison on those charges when he offered to talk to law enforcement about the Mitchell case in an effort to reduce his sentence.
Charges filed against three other men based on Oldhorn’s statement were dismissed after Oldhorn, once convicted, refused to testify at their trials.
“When the witness decided he was not going to cooperate, we had no choice but to dismiss the charges” against the other three, County Attorney Mitch Young said. He said the threat of holding him in contempt and giving him jail time wouldn’t mean much for someone facing what amounted to a life sentence.
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