BILLINGS — A man convicted of murdering a woman on Montana’s Crow Indian Reservation by strangling her and lighting her on fire asked for a retrial Friday, claiming in part that the government never turned over a cellphone with text messages related to the night of the murder.
Defendant Dimarzio Swade Sanchez could face life in prison based on his December conviction for first degree murder following a jury trial in the killing of 28-year-old Roylynn Rides Horse.
His attorneys asked U.S. District Judge Susan Watters to grant a new trial — or at least not rule out a new trial until the contents of the cellphone are disclosed.
Sanchez also said his sole defense witness was under indictment on drug charges at the time she testified, unbeknownst to Sanchez. That raises the possibility he could have been acquitted or convicted of a lesser charge, his attorneys claim.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Leif Johnson said prosecutors will oppose the request for a new trial. He declined to comment on the assertion that the government had known about the cellphone but failed to disclose it.
Two other defendants in the case are awaiting sentencing. Sanchez’s brother, Frank, has pleaded guilty to being an accessory after the fact and Angelica Jo Whiteman has pleaded guilty to aiding and abetting first-degree murder.
Rides Horse survived the June 2016 attack and was found 14 hours later by a passer-by, but died of her injuries more than two months later.
Federal Defender Gillian Gosch said in the request for a new trial that the defense first learned about the existence of the phone on January 22, more than a month after the trial.
The phone had allegedly been bought and sold by different individuals, all the while remaining locked, until it came in possession of a former law enforcement officer who unlocked it and found the messages from the night of Rides Horses’ murder, Gosch wrote.
“If…the cell phone contains a text message indicating ‘I can’t believe what they did’ and ‘they’ is not Mr. Sanchez, the text message bears directly on Mr. Sanchez’s case, whether he was the leader and whether he acted with malice forethought in killing R.R.,” Gosch wrote, using the victim’s initials.
Watters did not immediately rule on the request for a new trial.
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