By Hunter Herbaugh
Ranger-Review 

Trial for Fallon homicide suspect gets moved back, officials discuss logistics

 

Sterling Brown (left) and Jake Burghduff (right)

The trial for one of the suspects in the homicide investigation of Fallon resident Isaac Carrier has been moved back to next year while the other is still scheduled for later this summer. Planning for the trials has already begun, with the anticipated size of the events posing a serious challenge for Prairie County officials.

Two suspects are facing charges in the death of Carrier, who was found deceased in his apartment in Fallon following a fire that broke out on Jan. 23. Jake Burghduff and Sterling Brown, both South Dakota residents, were charged with felonies for the fire and Carrier's death.

Brown's trial has been pushed back and is now to begin March 18. He has been charged with one count each of arson and deliberate homicide. Burghduff's trial is still scheduled to begin Aug. 17. He has been charged with one count each of arson, tampering with physical evidence and deliberate homicide by accountability. Both trial dates are subject to further changes if necessary.

Both individuals are being held at the Dawson County Correctional Facility. The suspects made their initial appearances in Seventh Judicial District Court in Dawson County in February as Prairie County does not have its own detention facility. However, the trials will be held in-person in Prairie County since that is the jurisdiction where the crimes were allegedly committed.

Planning for trials of this magnitude are presenting challenges for court officials in Prairie County. As Prairie County is one of the state's least populated counties, officials there did not anticipate having to accommodate an event with this much expected interest when the courthouse was built.

Clerk of District Court Shari Robertson said approximately 200 possible jurors have been pulled for the selection, so finding space for voir dire, the preliminary examination of jurors, will prove challenging as even the 12 selected jurors and alternates will likely take up half of the available space in the Prairie County Courtroom. Space considerations also have to be given to the defense, prosecution and media.

The biggest concern, however, is finding space for the anticipated crowd. As the case has generated a lot of interest from people both directly and indirectly affected, Robertson is trying to find a venue to accommodate the members of the public who wish to observe the proceedings. She discussed the matter with the Prairie County Commissioners during their meeting on June 28.

The court does have a new broadcast system, provided by the state, Robertson noted, so they will at be able to broadcast the trial. This means they could have the trial in the courtroom while relocating the overflow crowd to another location, such as the Evelyn Cameron Gallery or the high school gym.

"I have a brand new system, so that part of it is nice," Robertson said.

There are also significant budget implications for the county, as it will have to cover the expense of the trial. This can include things like juror compensation, additional security, renting a space for the overflow crowd and more. According to County Commissioner Todd Devlin, the expected cost for the trial is estimated somewhere between $50,000 to $100,000.

The county will begin its budget hearings for the 2024 fiscal year this month, but with the logistics for the trial still being worked out, it is likely the trial expenses will have to be figured into the budget as an amendment at a later time.

"Since we're going into budget, I was just wanting to put that flag out there, that that will be extra expense for the county," Robertson said.

With the state attorney general's office also participating in the case, it begs the question of if the state can possibly help cover any of the costs. However, according to Kyler Nerison, a Department of Justice spokesperson, there is no mechanism in state law that would provide that relief, putting the expense is squarely on the county.

"The Department of Justice does not have a mechanism to pay for a county's trial cost. However, alongside Prairie County Attorney Dan Rice, the Attorney General's Office is working to balance those practical implications with our duty to achieve justice for Isaac Carrier," Nerison said.

As for the issue of available space, those logistics are still in the early stages of getting figured out. A change of venue to a larger location is more than likely not a feasible option, according to Robertson, as there are only very select instances were a venue can be changed.

According to MCA 25-2-201, which governs when a change of venue is required, a change is only possible when the county designated in the complaint is not the proper county, when there is reason to believe that an impartial trial cannot be had in that jurisdiction or "when the convenience of witnesses and the ends of justice would be promoted by the change."

 

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