BILLINGS — The Montana Supreme Court is now reviewing whether charges against a man accused of raping a Billings girl in 1987 were filed outside the statute of limitations.
The trial for Ronald Tipton, 57, was set to begin in early December, but the case is now on hold as the high court weighs in.
Tipton was charged in 2015 with three counts of sexual intercourse without consent for the 1987 rape of an 8-year-old girl.
Tipton allegedly broke into the girl’s home in the middle of the night and raped her in her bedroom.
The girl reported that the perpetrator threatened to kill her if she did not keep quiet.
The victim told her parents about the rape and they reported it to police.
Another man, Jimmy Rae Bromgard, was wrongly convicted of the crime and sentenced to prison in 1987.
Bromgard has ultimately exonerated in 2002 thanks to advances in DNA testing.
Billings police reopened the case and investigated leads.
Swabs of DNA evidence collected from the victim’s clothing were matched against potential contributors in a crime lab database.
Forensic analysts who compared the samples reported in 2014 that the DNA matched Tipton.
Tipton’s DNA was in the system because of a felony conviction in Meagher County for possession of drugs.
Tipton’s wife told police that she and her husband had lived in Billings at the time of the offense and had at one point lived virtually across the street from the victim’s home.
Now, 30 years after the offense, defense attorneys for Tipton claim that the legal time frame for charges has passed.
Judge Mary Jane Knisely denied a request by the defense to dismiss the case on the basis of an expired time frame for filing charges.
Knisely noted that the Legislature passed a new DNA amendment in 2007 that allowed the prosecution to commence one year after a suspect is conclusively identified by DNA testing despite the statute of limitations expiring.
But the defense wants the Montana Supreme Court to rule on whether the case can proceed.
Tipton is not in custody.
-Aja Goare reporting for MTN