- Associated Press - Thursday, September 18, 2014

BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) - A Colorado man charged with killing his wife 15 years ago agreed Thursday to return to Montana to face trial amid indications that authorities had long harbored questions about his possible involvement in the case.

Brian David Laird, 46, waived extradition during a first court appearance in Fort Collins, Colorado, before Judge Daniel Kaup, according to minutes of his appearance.

Montana authorities want Laird to face trial in Big Horn County in the death of Kathyrn Laird, whose badly bruised body was found floating in a bay downstream of Yellowtail Dam in Fort Smith on July 31, 1999.

If convicted, Brian Laird, a former Montana fly fishing guide and attorney, could face the death penalty or a minimum 10 years to life in prison.

Court documents show Laird was questioned extensively about the case in 2002 when he sought a license to practice law in Missouri.

Authorities say there was never a decision on whether he was fit to practice because Laird failed the state bar exam.

Witnesses who emerged two years ago reported a bitter argument between the couple the night Kathryn Laird died. They had been married less than six months, and Kathryn Laird had told friends just hours before her death that she intended to separate from her husband, according to court documents.

Brian Laird was represented during Thursday’s appearance by Tracy Lowrey of the Colorado State Public Defender’s office, court officials said. Lowrey did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Trish Siemion of Fort Smith, who knew the couple and worked with the victim at a fishing lodge, said she suspected Brian Laird was involved in his wife’s death after Siemion drove him to the airport in Billings to pick up his parents on the same day his wife’s body had been found.

Siemion told The Associated Press that her now-deceased brother was also in the car and had heard the couple arguing in the hours before Kathryn Laird’s death.

“We had a sick feeling and could not wait to get him (Laird) out of the car,” Siemion said. “When the FBI came to my door two years ago and wanted to ask me questions, I broke down. I was so happy somebody was still going to do this.”

Siemion said Kathryn Laird’s mother, identified in court documents as Mary Lou Little, came to Montana annually from the family’s home in Texas for several years after her daughter’s death, hoping to find new witnesses or evidence in the case. Little could not be located.

Laird had a license to practice law in Colorado from 1995 to 2008, when he was placed on inactive status after a judge determined he was unable to competently fulfill his duties, court records show. The suspension came a year after he pleaded guilty to driving while impaired.

Laird was arrested on the homicide charge on Sept. 11 in Fort Collins by agents from the FBI and Montana Division of Criminal Investigation.

Judge Kaup scheduled a Sept. 25 status hearing in the case and ordered Laird remanded into custody on a $500,000 bond.

Authorities have declined to comment beyond what’s contained in court filings.

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