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Settlements pay $12 million to men exonerated in 1994 murder

Cases resolved in 2020 and 2019
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Posted at 5:42 PM, Feb 19, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-19 19:42:31-05

HELENA — The two men wrongfully convicted for a 1994 kidnapping and murder in Montana City – Freddie Joe Lawrence and Paul Jenkins – have each obtained $6 million settlements in their separate lawsuits against prosecutors and lawmen involved in the case.

MTN News obtained the settlement documents this week – although the cases were resolved some time ago.

Lawrence signed his settlement last September and his lawsuit in federal court was dismissed in October.

Jenkins’ settlement was signed 15 months ago, in November 2019, and his lawsuit was dismissed a month afterward.

In both cases, insurance companies for the Montana Association of Counties agreed to pay the claims.

Lawrence and Jenkins spent 24 years in prison for the 1994 murder of Donna Meagher, who was killed as part of a robbery at the Jackson Creek Saloon in Montana City.

A judge vacated their convictions in 2018 after DNA evidence from the crime matched a separate suspect, who is serving a life sentence in the Montana State Prison for a 2015 double-murder.

Not long after their release, Lawrence and Jenkins each filed lawsuits in U.S. District Court in Missoula, against the county attorneys and law officers who investigated the case. Jenkins’ children, Kenneth Jenkins and Crystal Combs, also were plaintiffs in his lawsuit.

The suits said investigators “fabricated evidence, hid exculpatory evidence and otherwise engaged in misconduct to convict two innocent men.”

Among other things, the suits said investigators relied on statements from Jenkins’ wife, who was suffering from early-onset Alzheimer’s disease, and a man with an IQ of 50.

“Defendants used leading questions, coercion and direct suggestion to falsify and fabricate statements from these vulnerable witnesses,” the suit said. “Defendants also turned the tapes on and off during the recordings of these interviews, to falsely create the appearance that both witnesses were volunteering narrative accounts implicating Lawrence and Paul Jenkins in the murder. …”

The settlement for Lawrence paid him and his lawyers $4.4 million. Another $1.6 million was paid into a fund that will be distributed to Lawrence at $8,500 per month over the next 15 years and eight months.

The settlement for Jenkins pays $5 million into a settlement trust for him and $500,000 each to his son and daughter.