Supporters of a woman charged with murder for killing her abusive ex-husband say the state’s decision to drop deliberate homicide charges with the caveat that they could be re-filed at a later date does not go far enough in exonerating her.
Montana Assistant Attorney General Chris McConnell, who was appointed as special prosecutor last year, filed to dismiss deliberate homicide charges against Rachel Bellesen without prejudice on April 9. A dismissal without prejudice means Bellesen could be re-charged in the future, while a dismissal with prejudice would permanently end the case against her.
Bellesen’s attorney, Lance Jasper, says he will argue for a dismissal with prejudice at Bellesen’s next court appearance on May 25 in Sanders County.
“We look forward to our day in court, for the state to explain why they won’t dismiss this with prejudice given the offers that were made by us and their refusal to acknowledge the truth of what happened,” Jasper told the Beacon. “That troubles me.”
Jasper’s offer, he said, was to turn over the entire defense case to prosecutors in exchange for a guarantee that the dismissal would convert to “with prejudice” one year later if charges were not re-filed. Jasper said that offer was refused.
Bellesen was arrested on Oct. 8, shortly after she admitted to shooting and killing her ex-husband, Jacob Glace, near the town of Paradise in rural Sanders County. Bellesen called 911 following the shooting, turned over her gun to law enforcement and helped direct officers to Glace’s body.
Jasper previously told the Beacon that Bellesen was convinced to meet her ex-husband on the night of the shooting after he “threatened to harm one of (their) children.” Bellesen told dispatchers and hospital personnel that Glace had attempted to rape her that night, and Jasper said evidence collected showed Bellesen had “significant bruising,” that her shirt and bra had been ripped, and that her pants zipper was broken. Charging documents submitted by prosecutors offer no motive for Bellesen to kill Glace other than the attempted rape and acknowledge that she was injured on the night of the shooting.
Kyler Nerison, a spokesman for the Montana Attorney General’s Office explained the state’s decision to dismiss the charges without prejudice in a statement to the Beacon.
“The state is waiting for several forensic tests to be completed and will make a determination whether to apply for leave to re-file after receiving those results and re-examining the evidence that has been gathered,” he wrote.
Bellesen was initially held on $500,000 bail, an amount that was first reduced to $200,000, and then dropped all the way to $20,000 after Jasper argued for a reduction. Bellesen posted bond and was released from custody in late October.
Glace has a lengthy history of domestic violence, including a conviction for attacking Bellesen (then Rachel Hansen) in Washington in 2004. In that case, Glace ripped out a tuft of her hair as he dragged his then-wife from her home into a parking lot. And in the six months before his death, Glace had been charged with partner or family member assault in both Mineral and Sanders counties for alleged attacks against two different women.
In addition to her personal experience with domestic abuse, Bellesen works as the shelter coordinator for the Abbie Shelter, the Flathead Valley’s nonprofit domestic violence resource. Co-workers at the Abbie Shelter have rallied around Bellesen in the months since her arrest, and Executive Director Hilary Shaw distributed a “call to action” last week, protesting the state’s decision to dismiss without prejudice and saying such a move “is not justice for Rachel.”
“While the dismissal (without prejudice) is a step forward, it means that this case will follow Rachel for the rest of her life,” the letter reads. “She will live in fear that the case may be re-filed. These charges will remain a permanent stain on Rachel’s record.”
“A motion to dismiss without prejudice allows everyone to walk away unharmed from this unjust prosecution — except for Rachel.”
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