- Associated Press - Sunday, October 12, 2014

HAILEY, Idaho (AP) - New evidence calls into question the culpability of a man found guilty of killing his wife 30 years ago, a central Idaho judge says, and he’s considering voiding the conviction.

Fifth District Judge Robert Elgee issued the order Sept. 26, going a step beyond an order a week earlier that said he was just considering resentencing. Final arguments from attorneys are due Nov. 18, the Idaho Mountain Express reported (https://bit.ly/1s2XPJG).

A jury in 1985 convicted Jaimi Dean Charboneau of the 1984 shooting death of his wife, Marilyn Arbaugh, and he was sentenced to life in prison without parole. He’s now 54 and being held in the Elmore County Jail.

Elgee said a 1989 letter written by the victim’s daughter, Tira Arbaugh, said she was instructed by prosecutors in 1984, when she was 14, to falsify or withhold information regarding her mother’s death. Tira Arbaugh died in 1999 of an asthma attack.

Elgee earlier this year ruled that state officials, either “willfully or inadvertently,” hid the letter. It didn’t become known until 2011 when Charboneau sought post-conviction relief.

Elgee is also considering an affidavit from Larry Gold, who served as Jerome County sheriff from 1989 to 1993 and is now deceased. Gold in the affidavit stated he had no proof, but he had come to believe a conspiracy concealed information beneficial to Charboneau’s case in previous post-conviction relief proceedings.

Charboneau admitted to shooting Marilyn Arbaugh with a rifle but said it was self-defense, and also said the fatal shot was made by Marilyn Arbaugh’s teenage daughter Tiffnie Arbaugh.

Tira Arbaugh’s letter didn’t exonerate Charboneau or incriminate her older sister, but did say a second rifle was involved and it was fired by Tiffnie Arbaugh. The letter said Tiffnie Arbaugh was told by prosecutors to get rid of the weapon, and it was buried.

Elgee in his most recent order said he was considering voiding the sentence rather than resentencing Charboneau because that wouldn’t guarantee his release. Idaho law requires a life sentence with a minimum of 10 years.

Elgee wrote that Charboneau’s release, if he were just resentenced, would be up to the Idaho Department of Correction and the Idaho Commission of Pardons and Parole, agencies he said knew about the letter long ago.

“IDOC is already the party, the court has concluded, that actively prevented Charboneau from learning of the contents of the Tira Arbaugh letter for at least eight years, if not longer,” Elgee wrote. “If Charboneau is entitled to post-conviction relief, and if a lesser sentence is warranted in order to achieve substantial justice, the court is no longer certain it can be achieved in this case by resentencing alone.”

Elgee said he will make a final decision within 90 days from his Sept. 19 ruling.

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Information from: Idaho Mountain Express, https://www.mtexpress.com

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