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Montana Supreme Court overturns murder conviction of Brian Laird

Case sent back to Big Horn County District Court
Posted: 12:22 PM, Aug 21, 2019
Updated: 2019-08-21 14:26:47-04
Brian David Laird

BILLINGS — The Montana Supreme Court has thrown out the conviction of Brian David Laird, who was convicted of murder 15 years after his wife was found drowned in the Bighorn River.

The case against Laird has been sent back to Big Horn County District Court in Hardin following the ruling, which was issued Tuesday.

In 2016 Laird was sentenced to 100 years in prison after being convicted of deliberate homicide for the 1999 death of his wife, Kathryn Laird, whose body was found in the afterbay area of the Yellowtail Dam.

Laird, a former Billings attorney who was living in Colorado when he was arrested, appealed his conviction, arguing, among other issues, that testimony from a deceased forensic pathologist was wrongly admitted at his trial.

An FBI agent testified that during the autopsy the pathologist described bruising around the woman's neck as "troubling."

A majority of the Montana Supreme Court justices agreed, stating the evidence should not have been allowed because Laird's right to cross-examine or confront a witness against him was violated.

"Because the State utilized the 'troubling' statements throughout trial to prove Kathryn's neck bruising was suspicious, but failed to present any expert medical testimony proving as much, admission of the statements constituted reversible error," the justices said in a written opinion.

Three justices disagreed with the ruling, stating the remark by the pathologist was spontaneous and did not deprive Laird of a fair trial.