Butte-Silver Bow and some adjacent counties are being asked to contribute $25,000 each for the prosecution of a man charged in the shooting death of Broadwater County Sheriff’s Deputy Mason Moore in May 2017.
Broadwater County Attorney Cory Swanson made the requests several months ago and Butte-Silver Bow Sheriff Ed Lester is now asking commissioners here to honor it. They seem to be leaning that way but decided this week that more time is needed to fit it into the new budget they will pass next month.
Bill Everett, chief executive of Anaconda-Deer Lodge County, said he believed a request to his county was discussed at one time but he did not know where it stood Friday. It was also unclear where the requests stood in Jefferson and Powell counties.
Mason was shot and killed in Broadwater County but Lloyd Barrus and his son, Marshall Barrus, then led police on a high-speed chase through several counties, including Jefferson, Butte-Silver Bow, Anaconda-Deer Lodge, Powell and Granite before it ended in a shootout in Missoula County.
Marshall Barrus was killed. Lloyd Barrus was wounded and is now being prosecuted on several charges, including accountability for deliberate homicide in Mason’s death and five counts of attempted homicide for shooting at officers, including those from Butte-Silver Bow. Authorities believe Marshall Barrus fired the shots that killed Moore.
Montana’s Office of Public Defender is paying for Lloyd Barrus’ defense, which includes two private attorneys, and Broadwater County is paying for the prosecution.
But even with help from two state prosecutors, $25,000 from Grant County and in-kind help from other counties, including Missoula, Lewis and Clark, Gallatin and Cascade, Swanson says more cash assistance is needed.
“As you likely know, Broadwater County is a small county and does not have the resources to compete with the state’s budget provided to the Office of Public Defender,” Swanson wrote in a December letter to Butte-Silver Bow commissioners and Chief Executive Dave Palmer.
“Consequently, I am seriously concerned about my ability to prosecute this case to successful completion if I cannot locate additional resources outside of my county,” he wrote.
The defense has spent money on nationally recognized expert witnesses, prosecutors retained their own, and by December, prosecution costs were $200,000, Swanson said.
John Barnes, a spokesman for the Montana Attorney General’s Office, said costs as of last week were $241,000 and requests for contributions were still pending in Butte-Silver Bow, Anaconda-Deer Lodge, Jefferson and Powell counties. The AG’s Office is helping Swanson prosecute the case and Swanson directed all media inquiries to Barnes.
The Public Defender Office says it was possible prosecutors would seek the death penalty against Lloyd Barrus, so it hired a private attorney in Missoula and one from Helena who met defense qualifications in capital cases mandated by the Montana Supreme Court.
Swanson decided in July 2017 to seek the death penalty but dropped that a year later because Barrus has a history of mental health issues dating back to 2000. Because of them, the Montana State Hospital deemed him unable to stand trial.
Prosecutors want Barrus medicated with antipsychotic drugs, forcibly if necessary, to return him to competency so he can stand trial. A district court judge agreed with that in May but that has been appealed to the Montana Supreme Court, meaning more delays and more costs. If convicted now, he could face multiple life sentences in the Montana State Prison.
Lester asked commissioners in a June 25 letter to help Broadwater County with costs of prosecuting Lloyd Barrus. He said that during the high-speed chase, three Butte-Silver Bow vehicles were struck and disabled by gunfire.
“Deputy Mason Moore will never return to his family or the members of the Broadwater County Sheriff’s Office,” he said in the letter. “We in Butte-Silver Bow are fortunate that we did not lose three of our brave officers on that night. Numerous other officers could have been killed as well.”
Lester reiterated the request before commissioners Wednesday night, saying Butte-Silver Bow was victimized, too.
“He tried to kill three of our officers as well,” he said.
Even though the state AG’s Office is helping prosecute the case, County Attorney Eileen Joyce said the cash costs still fall to Broadwater County.
Danette Gleason, Butte-Silver Bow’s budget director, said if $25,000 was added to the proposed budget, it would raise property taxes slightly unless $25,000 in cuts elsewhere were made. The increase would be about 50 cents on a house valued at $100,000.
She said the budget is now before commissioners, so it’s up to them to increase taxes or find the corresponding cuts.
A few commissioners said that giving Broadwater County $25,000 was the right thing and ways could be found to do it without raising additional taxes. Lester said he would forego funds the department wants for a new police vehicle if necessary.
Commissioner Bill Andersen said he would propose cuts next week to free up the money.
“If he (Lester) feels that strongly about it, I feel that strongly about it that this is the right thing to do,” he said.
Commissioner Jim Fisher noted that taxpayers are footing the bill for the defense and prosecution of Barrus, but agreed with Andersen that honoring the request was justified.
“We can make this work,” he said.
According to Barnes, Missoula County housed Barrus for approximately seven months at no charge to Broadwater County and transported him to Montana State Hospital and to several court hearings in Helena or Townsend at no charge.
Swanson said Lewis and Clark County has repeatedly transported Barrus for court hearings and provided additional security. Gallatin, Cascade and Lewis and Clark counties took on patrol duties in Broadwater County immediately after the crime and the state has provided support through an investigator and two prosecutors.
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