- Associated Press - Friday, November 25, 2016

HELENA, Mont. (AP) - A state judge ordered a new trial in a 2001 Great Falls homicide after finding that Cascade County prosecutors failed to notify defense attorneys that another man had confessed to his role in the killing, the Montana Innocence Project said Friday.

District Judge John Kutzman vacated Richard Burkhart’s homicide conviction in the November 2001 death of William Ledeau and ordered a new trial in a ruling handed down Wednesday. Burkhart is serving a life sentence and is being held at the Montana State Prison in Deer Lodge.

Kutzman’s ruling says the undisclosed evidence would have entitled Burkhart to a new trial, and that it is a reasonable probability the outcome would have been Burkhart’s acquittal.

“We are very pleased with the court’s order dismissing the judgment against Richard,” said Larry Mansch, legal director for the Montana Innocence Project. “He has spent 14 years in prison for a crime he did not commit. If the state decides to retry the case, we are very confident we can prove Richard’s innocence.”

Kutzman noted that it did not appear Cascade County prosecutors intentionally withheld the report of the jailhouse confession that Nathan Roths said was made by his cellmate at the Great Falls Juvenile Detention Center in the summer of 2002, before Burkhart’s trial.

Rolfs told police that his cellmate cried while saying that the cellmate and another man were responsible for Ledeau’s death.

Rolfs went to police in September 2002, shortly after Burkhart was convicted but before the deadline for filing a motion for a new trial had passed.

Kutzman’s ruling notes that Burkhart’s defense in court was that the two other men were responsible for Ledeau’s death and the motive was that Ledeau was dating the ex-girlfriend of one of them.

The Montana Innocence Project found the report about the jailhouse confession in 2015, while helping Burkhart with a petition for post-conviction relief, project officials said.

Innocence Project officials interviewed another man who testified against Burkhart and said he recanted that testimony in January 2014. Kutzman’s decision did not address the recanted testimony.

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