MISSOULA – Two men serving life sentences for the 1994 murder of a Helena area woman could be set free from state custody after 23 years after the Montana Innocence Project says new DNA testing on crime scene evidence points to a different killer.

Lawyers for Paul Jenkins, 63, and Fred Lawrence, 55, filed a motion in Helena District Court to overturn the conviction and immediately release the two men believing the new forensic evidence points to the real killer – David Nelson, 55.

Lawyers say new forensic testing reveals it is Nelson’s DNA at the crime scene and not the two men convicted for the crime 23 years ago. That motion was filed last month and unsealed this week by Judge Kathy Seeley.

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Nelson is already in prison for the murders of Bev Giannonatti,79, and Greg Giannonatti, 57. He also served time for aggravated assault out of Ravalli County in 1998.

In 1994, Donna Meagher was robbed, kidnapped and beaten to death as she was closing up for the night at the Jackson Creek Saloon in Montana City. Her body was found later that morning.

Jenkins and Lawrence were arrested months later and tried at the same time with two separate juries during a Lewis and Clark county trial led by then-County Attorney Mike McGrath.

The motion to release Jenkins and Lawrence from prison will be heard in Judge Kathy Seeley’s court in Helena on March 9 where she’ll decide the next steps in the case.

During the Thursday 5:30 news we’ll have reaction from Paul Jenkin’s daughter about the possibility of her father’s release.

We’ll also take a closer look at the history of David Nelson and get reaction from Jenkin’s attorney, Thad Adkins and from the Montana Innocence Project.

Reporting by Jill Valley for MTN News

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