KALISPELL - A former Thompson Falls man who spent 18 years in prison before being exonerated, settled a multi-million-dollar civil case against Sanders County earlier this week.
We talked on Friday with the Montana Innocence Project, a nonprofit group based in Missoula that provides free legal assistance to clients they believe are wrongfully convicted.
It’s been more than six years since Richard Raugust was formally released from prison. Through years of diligent research, The Montana Innocence Project helped turn back his wrongful conviction back in 2016.
“It’s an incredible ordeal to go through a federal lawsuit like that, even in the civil area, it really means in so many ways, reliving through all of the traumatic experiences of being wrongfully incarcerated,” Montana Innocence Project Executive Director Amy Sings In The Timber said.
Raugust and law firm Blackford Carls P.C. settled a civil case against Sanders County and a former sheriff’s deputy for $5 million. Sings In The Timber says the settlement is bittersweet.
“$5 million seems like a lot of money but I don’t know that there is an amount of money that can really make somebody truly whole after that.”
Raugust was the first freed client for the Montana Innocence Project back in 2016 and Sings in The Timber says they have freed nine different clients since.
“We’re totally privately funded organization at this juncture, no state dollars and no federal dollars at the moment.”
Sings in the Timber says a small team of four make up the Montana Innocence Project along with a number of volunteer pro bono attorneys offering their assistance.
She says they are currently working on roughly 50 active investigation cases.
“Part of what needs to be done is to work to exonerate and free the wrongfully incarcerated, the other big piece of it is to really reform this system, to take a look at the causes, the drivers of wrongful conviction.”
Sings In The Timber says Raugust’s settlement gives hope to current and future clients, that some justice can be served, even if it comes at an unimaginable cost.
“I just think that it has been incredibly heartening for me to see how our clients support one another, and a victory for one of our clients is a victory for all of our clients in so many ways.”
Learn more about the Montana Innocence Project at https://mtinnocenceproject.org/.