(HELENA) Montana Attorney General Tim Fox is asking the U.S. Supreme Court for permission to prosecute Ronald Dwight Tipton, a suspect linked by DNA evidence to a 1987 rape of an 8-year-old girl in Billings.
Fox said in a Wednesday media release that his office filed a motion with the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn a 2003 Montana law that forbids filing rape charges after the statute of limitations has expired.
In July, the Montana Supreme Court ruled that Tipton could not be tried for the rape of the girl at her Billings home in 1987. Another man, Jimmy Bromgard, was tried and convicted for the crime, but he was released in 2002 after DNA evidence exonerated him.
In 2014, authorities said DNA taken from Tipton following a Meagher County arrest on drug charges matched DNA from the old rape.
“This is an example of the law catching up to science,” Fox said. “We have DNA evidence that conclusively identifies the suspect in a heinous crime, and justice demands that he be brought to trial. I have met with the victim and am pleased that she supports our efforts. A victory at the U.S. Supreme Court will not only allow us to bring justice and closure for her, but will help achieve similar results throughout the country as perpetrators are conclusively identified through breakthroughs in DNA science.”
Fox’s office had indicated in August that it was planning to file the order with the U.S. Supreme Court by the deadline today.
Tipton has felony convictions in Yellowstone County for theft, and in Meagher County for criminal possession of dangerous drugs.
Tipton is not currently in custody. His attorney, Rob Stephens of Billings, was out of the office Wednesday and not available for comment.
(JULY 6, 2018) Charges against a man accused of raping an 8-year-old Billings girl three decades ago were dismissed Thursday by the Montana Supreme Court.
The court ruled that the statute of limitations had passed for Ronald Dwight Tipton of White Sulphur Springs to face three charges of sexual intercourse without consent with a minor for the 1987 unsolved crime. He is not in custody.
Forensic experts had identified Tipton as the alleged rapist only after another man, Jimmy Brogard, was wrongly convicted and served 15 years in prison for the crime. Brogard was exonerated and released in 2002 after new DNA tests were conducted.
Yellowstone County District Court Judge Mary Jane Knisely had denied Tipton’s request to dismiss the charges in late 2017. She ruled that because he had been charged within a year of a DNA test indicating he was the rapist, state law allowed prosecutors to still file charges for the cold case.
The state had obtained Tipton’s DNA because of a felony drug conviction for drug possession in Meagher County. Forensic experts matched his DNA to the cold case in 2014.
The Supreme Court’s decision was unanimous.
In her written opinion, Justice Beth Baker noted the crime against the girl was a “horrific, repugnant act that the people of Montana expect will be punished for the protection of the victim and society” and the case against Tipton was “strong” with “compelling evidence.”
Nevertheless, the court could not ignore Tipton’s constitutional rights to be free from prosecution after the statute of limitations expires.
By Montana law, the statute of limitation for sexual intercourse without consent with a minor expired in 2001, or five years after the victim turned 18.