Two Montana men filed federal lawsuits against several counties and individual investigators over their false convictions in a kidnapping and murder case from 25 years ago. In January 1994, Donna Meagher was found beaten to death outside of Helena, Montana. She had been kidnapped and robbed from her family's bar and casino in Montana City. Two men were eventually convicted of her kidnapping and murder in February 1995: Freddie Joe Lawrence and Paul Jenkins. A judge ordered their convictions vacated in April 2018 after new testimony and DNA found at the murder scene showed that the real murderer was David Nelson, a man who was convicted in 2015 for two murders similar to Meagher's.
Lawrence and Jenkins are suing for undisclosed monetary damages for the loss of their freedom and loss of contact with family for 24 years. Jenkins, who is diabetic and lost both his legs while in prison due to lack of “quality care,” is also suing for damages because of his amputations.
The men's lawsuits claim that investigators from three different counties botched the entire investigation by coercing Lawrence to confess, coercing witnesses with mental challenges, and failing to follow up on a tip from Nelson's nephew. As far as the witnesses' testimonies (which were later recanted), one was from Lawrence's father-in-law, who was a known liar to the police, and one was from Jenkins' wife, who was (unknown at the time) in the early stages of Alzheimer's Disease.
In 1999, Nelson's nephew told Ravalli County investigators that his uncle had bragged about killing a woman and two other men had been convicted for the crime. Police did not forward this information to other investigators. He told the same story to Dillon, Montana police, which then led to Montana state police to reopen the case. DNA found on a rope at the murder scene was linked to Nelson, which corroborated his nephew's claim. No charges have been filed yet against Nelson in Meagher's murder.
According to the National Registry of Exonerations, in Washington State, there have been 52 exonerations since 1989. Those wrongfully convicted lost a total of 266.8 years combined while imprisoned. Out of those 52 exonerations, six were murder convictions, eighteen were child sex abuse convictions, two were drug convictions, and eleven were for other crimes. Ten of those exonerations were African Americans and 36 were Caucasians.
Steve Karimi, Defense Attorney
To avoid a conviction for a crime you did not commit, you need a strong defense attorney who has your rights and interests foremost in mind. As a former prosecutor, Steve Karimi knows both sides of the law and now spends his time defending those in Washington accused of serious crimes. The attorneys at the Law Offices of Steve Karimi will provide a free consultation of your case. Contact them today or call 206-621-8777.