Courts

Defense Says Law Enforcement Missteps Skewed Homicide Investigation

State’s final witnesses in murder trial included the defendant’s mistress, who admitted to having an affair with Bradley Jay Hillious prior to his wife Amanda’s death

By Maggie Dresser
Bradley Jay Hillious appears in Flathead County District Court in Kalispell on Jan.12, 2022. He is charged with deliberate homicide in the death of his wife, Amanda Hillious. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

A Flathead County jury on Thursday morning reached the halfway point in the murder trial of Bradley Jay Hillious, the Kalispell man accused of killing his wife, Amanda, who he maintains died after falling down a flight of stairs at their Kalispell home on Dec. 15, 2020.

Hillious has pleaded not guilty to a single felony count of deliberate homicide for the death of Amanda Hillious. Judge Robert Allison is presiding over the trial, which began Jan. 3.

Prosecutors rested their case on Thursday morning and say evidence proves the victim’s injuries were caused by strangulation and could not have occurred during an accidental fall, as the defense asserts. Hillious’ defense attorneys, Jami Rebsom and co-counsel Suzanne Marshall, argue that law enforcement rushed to judgement and say Amanda received negligent medical attention from emergency medical responders prior to her death, which an autopsy determined was caused by a lack of oxygen to the brain. They also described her father-in-law — the defendant’s father, Scott Hillious, who lived at the home with the family and reportedly committed suicide shortly after Amanda’s death — as an “explosive” figure who was never included as a suspect even though he should have been.  

As the state presented its final witness testimony on Jan. 12, Flathead County Sheriff’s Office Detective Rich Schuster described his arrival to the scene on Dec. 15, 2020, when he found emergency responders rendering aid to Amanda followed by an interaction with the defendant’s father, Scott Hillious, who said she hit the entertainment center when she fell.

Detective Schuster then began an investigation, interviewing medical professionals who treated Amanda, her family and volunteers at the Abbie Shelter, a local domestic violence resource.

“There’s been indications that you told (medical witnesses) some of the information you obtained through the investigation … Did you give some information about your investigation to some of those medical witnesses?” asked Flathead County Attorney Travis Ahner.

“Yes sir I did … By the time I interviewed them, charting had already been completed. They had treated her and she had already been transferred out of the emergency room. When talking with them (I tried) to understand if there was anything unusual about someone falling down the stairs and being in such critical condition at that age. I probably said a little bit more than I should have,” Schuster said.

Flathead County Detective Rich Schuster testifies in Flathead County District Court in Kalispell on Jan. 12, 2022 in the case of Bradley Jay Hillious, who is accused of deliberate homicide in the death of his wife, Amanda Hillious. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

But Rebsom accused Schuster of making false statements to witnesses, neglecting to include the defendant’s father as a possible suspect and failing to log evidence on the day of his reported suicide.

“You presumed Brad was guilty before he ever left his home,” Rebsom said.

On Dec. 24, 2020, Scott Hillious reportedly died by suicide at their home, where authorities found three suicide letters for the couple’s children, which were not originally logged as evidence.

Following his father’s death, Hillious called 911 and went to the sheriff’s office for an interview and was later arrested. Afterward, he told detectives that his father had stated, “I can’t deal with this anymore, I’m not going to jail.”

The jury also heard testimony from 24-year-old Rylie Adams, who admitted to having an on-and-off affair with the defendant since 2019, and who said she was present at the Hillious home on the day of Scott’s death.

Law enforcement interviewed Adams on Dec. 24, 2020, when she refused to answer questions about her relationship with the defendant, according to prosecutors.

During the interview, Adams told authorities she could not hear Scott and Bradley’s conversation prior to his death due to a hearing impairment, but months later recalled certain parts of their conversation. Later, during a recorded jail visit with the defendant, Hillious told her his father admitted to killing Amanda.

“You never told law enforcement that Brad told you Scott admitted it?” Ahner asked the witness.

“No, because I wasn’t in the room for the entire conversation,” Adams said.

Rylie Adams testifies in Flathead County District Court in Kalispell on Jan. 12, 2022 in the case of Bradley Jay Hillious. Adams and Hillious were romantically involved. Hillious is accused of deliberate homicide in the death of his wife, Amanda Hillious. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

Prosecutors also referenced a text message between Adams and a friend that said, “The only reason we aren’t moving me into the house is because of squatters’ rights,” to which the witness replied that she did not recall the message. Another message between Adams and her mother mentioned “getting Amanda out of the way,” which she said was taken out of context.

“I didn’t want anything bad to happen to her … How dare you accuse me of even wanting that,” Adams told Ahner.

During cross examination, Adams told the defense she tried to break off her relationship with Hillious multiple times before she moved to Kalispell in 2020.

“I didn’t want to be in the middle of what was going on with Amanda,” Adams said.

“What made you come back to him?” Marshall asked.

“I feel safe with him,” Adams said.

In the first week of the trial, witnesses called by the state included the couple’s 6-year-old son, Amanda’s 12-year-old son, medical professionals who treated Amanda, Flathead County Sheriff’s Department deputies who were dispatched to the scene, and friends and family members of the victim.

Last week, the jury heard the testimony of a radiologist who viewed Amanda’s CT scans at Logan Health on Dec. 15, 2020, and who said there was significant trauma to the victim’s neck including an acute fractured hyoid bone.

“What causes that kind of fracture?” Ahner asked the witness during testimony.

“It’s typically seen in hangings or forceful direct trauma,” the radiologist said. 

The defense, however, describes a series of errors and misjudgments on the behalf of medical personnel and law enforcement that could have caused Amanda’s death.

Following the accident, Rebsom and Marshall say emergency responders at the scene provided “negligent” and delayed medical care to the victim while incorrectly affixing a LUCAS device, which provides automated chest compressions. A sheriff’s deputy who was dispatched while wearing a body camera described the response time on the scene as “lengthy.”

Prosecutors later invited a friend and coworker of Amanda’s to testify along with her parents, who described a tense marriage and said there were previous altercations between the couple. 

Marshall argued that Detective Schuster used “suggestive” interview techniques speaking with witnesses, influencing the opinion of Christopher Maciel, Amanda’s father.

“At that time, Detective Schuster said in his opinion that it was not an accident,” Marshall said while cross examining Maciel.

“The first time I felt like it wasn’t an accident is when I had seen her face,” Maciel said.

In April 2020, Amanda filed an order of protection against Hillious and a Flathead County sheriff’s deputy’s body camera footage revealed Scott acting “agitated” while making suicidal statements before he was hospitalized and had his stomach pumped.

The jury also heard testimony last week from a friend and coworker of the victim’s, who testified that Amanda confided in her that the defendant was having an affair and that he shattered her phone when she confronted him about it. She said Amanda told her she tried to take all four children to Oregon to stay with her mom for a short period of time, which Hillious allowed at first, but later changed his mind and threatened her along with his father.

“Where did Amanda state that Brad put his hand?” Flathead County Deputy Attorney John Donovan asked the witness.

“He put his hands around her neck and he said he was going to choke her,” she said.

If you are experiencing domestic violence, call the Abbie Shelter’s 24-hour helpline at (406) 752-7273 or visit www.abbieshelter.org.

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