- Associated Press - Wednesday, July 5, 2017

HELENA, Mont. (AP) - The Montana Supreme Court denied Wednesday a new trial for a Butte man serving a life sentence for killing his infant daughter in August 2013.

Attorneys for Matthew Blaz argued that jurors should not have heard about Blaz’s conviction for assaulting his wife about a month before 53-day-old Mattisyn Blaz was killed.

In Wednesday’s ruling, five justices said both victims suffered head injuries, the assaults indicated Matthew Blaz had a pattern of resolving family issues with violence and both assaults happened at the family’s home with no other witnesses, thus making the first assault relevant evidence at trial.

The justices also noted jurors were instructed not to use evidence of other crimes to prove Blaz’s character.

“This instruction successfully cured any unfair prejudice that might have occurred,” Justice Jim Rice wrote.

Justices Laurie McKinnon and Dirk Sandefur disagreed, saying there was nothing “inherently unique and distinctive” about the two assaults that would point to Blaz as the only suspect, except that in both cases Blaz acted with bad character.

The assaults differed in several ways, including that Mattisyn’s mother was injured in the first case, but Mattisyn was not; Blaz was intoxicated in the first case, but not the second and the first assault was directed at an adult while the second was directed at an infant, McKinnon wrote in her dissent.

McKinnon wrote that there is a substantial risk that Blaz was convicted not for what he did, but for having committed a past assault. She and Sandefur said they would have ordered a new trial with that evidence excluded.

Separately, the state supreme court said the lower court erred in not giving Blaz credit for 318 days he served in jail pending trial. Credit was given in the verbal sentence, but not the written sentence. The justices ordered the court enter an amended judgment.

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