Helena court orders DNA testing in 1994 homicide case
Friday, September 09, 2016
Two men who have been serving life sentences for murder since 1995 will get a chance to prove their innocence through DNA testing after a Sept. 1 ruling by Helena District Court Judge Kathy Seeley.
In 1994, Freddie Joe Lawrence and Paul Jenkins were convicted of robbing the Jackson Creek Saloon in Montana City and kidnapping and killing the bartender. The body of the victim, Donna Meagher, was found in Colorado Gulch, just west of Helena.
Both men are serving life in prison for the killing.
According to the Montana Innocence Project, which represents Lawrence and Jenkins, this is the first case in which a Montana court has ordered DNA testing in a post-conviction case since a post-conviction DNA testing law was enacted in 2003. The 2015 Montana Legislature changed the law to allow greater access to DNA testing for people who claim they are actually innocent of the crimes they were convicted of.
Both men had previously appealed their convictions to the Montana Supreme Court, but the convictions were upheld.
Lawrence and Jenkins have always maintained their innocence. In 2012, the Montana Innocence Project agreed to help Lawrence and Jenkins petition for DNA testing on evidence obtained from the Jackson Creek Saloon and Colorado Gulch.
“After reviewing the case, we believed there were many questions left unanswered. We simply wanted to find out the truth about what happened. This marks a big step in that search for truth,” said MTIP staff attorney Toby Cook. “The Attorney General’s office has reopened the investigation based on new information that has come to light since we filed our petition. So, the Attorney General may also have some questions about this case that DNA testing can help answer.”