Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Judge orders resentencing in murder case

Questions linger in conviction of Jaimi Charboneau

Express Staff Writer

    Fifth District Court Judge Robert J. Elgee has ordered resentencing in a 30-year-old Jerome County murder case.
    Following a hearing on Friday, Sept. 19, in Jerome, Elgee ruled that the life sentence of Jaimi Dean Charboneau, now 54, be vacated. Charboneau has been serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole for the murder on July 1, 1984, of his ex-wife, Marilyn Arbaugh, who died from multiple gunshot wounds at her residence on a ranch near Jerome.
    Convicted by a jury in 1985, Charboneau was originally given a death sentence. That sentence was overturned by the Idaho Supreme Court in 1989 and Charboneau was sentenced instead to life in prison.
    Elgee’s ruling was mainly based on a letter written in 1989 by Tira Arbaugh, a daughter of the victim, which called into question the culpability of Charboneau in the death of Marilyn Arbaugh. Elgee ruled earlier this year that the letter, written to the court where Charboneau was convicted, was withheld from Charboneau by state officials, either “willfully or inadvertently” for more than 21 years and only became known to him in 2011. Tira Arbaugh, who is now deceased, alleged in the letter that she had been instructed by the prosecution in 1984 to falsify or withhold information regarding her mother’s death.
    After finally seeing the letter, Charboneau filed for post-conviction relief in 2011, seeking to have either his conviction or his sentence vacated. It was the sixth post-conviction relief case Charboneau had filed since his conviction. In the other five cases, his claims were rejected and the cases were dismissed.
    Elgee, who normally presides in Blaine County, was assigned to the case after the disqualification of Jerome County Fifth District Court Judge John K. Butler.
    Elgee’s ruling does not guarantee that Charboneau will be released from prison. Prior to sentencing—as yet unscheduled but expected to be within 90 days of Friday’s ruling—attorneys for Charboneau and the Idaho Attorney General’s Office, representing the state of Idaho, will be allowed to submit additional arguments that could affect Elgee’s ruling and resentencing.
    Charboneau, meanwhile, remained incarcerated this week in the Jerome County jail. Previously held at Idaho State Correctional Institution Unit 14 in Kuna, Charboneau was transported to Jerome for Friday’s hearing.

No one reading that letter who was unbiased or interested in justice would conceal it. No one.”
Judge Robert J. Elgee
Fifth District Court

    Charboneau attorney Brian Tanner, of Twin Falls, said Tuesday that Charboneau will remain in the Jerome County jail until the case is settled. Charboneau is also represented by Boise attorney John Lynn.
    Tanner on Tuesday was reluctant to claim victory for Charboneau, but described Elgee’s decision as a “gutsy move.”
    “I’m a little uncomfortable saying too much before it’s all done,” Tanner said. “It’s still subject to argument. My feeling is the AG’s office is not very happy.”
    Tanner said arguments in the case will now mainly concern whether the Tira Arbaugh letter is material evidence, as argued by Charboneau, or hearsay, as argued by the Attorney General’s Office, which has been represented in the case by Deputy Attorney General Ken Jorgensen.
    Attorney General’s Office spokesman Todd Dvorak said Tuesday that the office has no comment at this time.

Tira Arbaugh letter
    Earlier arguments in the case concerned whether the Tira Arbaugh letter was authentic. Elgee ruled in April that an investigation determined that the letter was indeed written by Tira Arbaugh and he wrote in a “finding of fact” ruling released then that the Attorney General’s Office conceded that it was.
    The letter was written in 1989 to Judge Philip Becker, who presided over the 1985 Charboneau murder trial and who gave Charboneau the original death sentence. Whether Becker ever received the letter is not known, according to Elgee’s findings. However, Elgee determined that the letter remained concealed until 2003 when a copy of it was delivered to the prison where Charboneau was housed. It was then held there for another eight years until it was finally delivered to Charboneau in 2011.
    In addition to alleging that she was coerced by the prosecution into falsifying and withholding evidence, Tira Arbaugh, 14 at the time and at the Arbaugh home along with her older teenage sister Tiffnie Arbaugh when Marilyn Arbaugh was murdered, wrote that a second gun may have been involved in the shooting.
    According to court documents, Charboneau admitted to police in 1984 that he shot Marilyn Arbaugh, but claimed he did so in self-defense. He further alleged that the fatal shot was fired by Tiffnie Arbaugh.
    Tira Arbaugh wrote in the letter that she wanted Becker to “know the truth about some of the things that happened that day my mom died and the truth about some of the things that I was told to say and told not to say. I think you should know that some of the things in my statements to the police were not all true.”
    In his ruling on Friday, Elgee determined that the Tira Arbaugh letter could have affected earlier rulings regarding Charboneau and that its suppression for 21 years was prejudicial to him.
    “Wherever the letter was between 1989 and 2003 or 2011, it was taken or concealed by someone who had the state’s purposes in mind, and who acted on behalf of the state, rather than the defendant,” Elgee wrote in April.
    “No one reading that letter who was unbiased or interested in justice would conceal it. No one.”
Terry Smith:

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