Montana AG's office won't appeal decision in Bellesen case
With tears in her eyes, Rachel Bellesen speaks to a group of supporters gathered at Depot Park in Kalispell on Wednesday, May 26, 2021. Bellesen shot and killed her abusive ex-husband in Sanders County in October 2020 and spent nine months enduring prosecution for homicide, despite ample evidence she acted in self-defense. (Casey Kreider/Daily Inter Lake)
Daily Inter Lake | June 14, 2021 3:00 PM
Facing ample evidence she acted in self-defense, the Montana Attorney General's Office says it will not appeal a judge's decision to permanently dismiss a murder charge against a Lakeside woman who shot and killed her abusive ex-husband in Sanders County nine months ago.
Rachel Bellesen — who works as a coordinator at the Abbie Shelter for domestic violence victims in Kalispell — killed Jacob Glace near a fishing hole in Paradise on Oct. 8 and was promptly arrested, even though she reported the incident herself and told sheriff's deputies Glace had tried to rape her.
"Bellesen showed signs of physical and emotional trauma consistent with sexual assault and attempted rape," District Judge Amy Eddy wrote in her decision. "She had scratches on her chest and her shirt was ripped open — the only remaining button was the top one — and her bra was torn."
As the case drew intense scrutiny and a pro bono team of experts was assembled to defend the 38-year-old Bellesen, the Sanders County Attorney's Office handed the case to Chris McConnell, a special prosecutor from the Attorney General's Office.
Acknowledging prosecutors had little chance of reaching a conviction, McConnell moved to drop the deliberate homicide charge "without prejudice" — which would have allowed for the charge to be refiled at a later date. On May 25, however, Judge Eddy took the extraordinary step of dismissing the case "with prejudice," meaning Bellesen can't be prosecuted for murder in connection with Glace's death.
McConnell argued in court that Eddy would be overstepping her authority by deciding how to dismiss the case. But in an email Friday, Emilee Cantrell, a spokeswoman for the Montana Department of Justice, told the Daily Inter Lake prosecutors have decided not to appeal the decision.
"The state made the decision to dismiss without prejudice based on the evidence available to it at that time," Cantrell wrote. "The court's decision to dismiss with prejudice is irregular. However, given the high burden of proving the District Court abused its discretion in this case, the state will not be appealing."
In court, McConnell acknowledged prosecutors don't have, and likely would never find, sufficient evidence to prove Bellesen's actions were unjustified, but he argued the option to refile the charge should remain on the table as the state was still awaiting lab results from the scene of the shooting. Eddy's written order, however, states that forensic evidence "would have been available in June," a month before the case was scheduled to go to trial.
Eddy's order, issued May 28, also details Glace's long history of physically abusing Bellesen and other women.
"A review of the evidence filed under seal demonstrates a long pattern of domestic violence and sexual assault between Bellesen and Glace, which is consistent with Glace's pattern of domestic violence and sexual assault with other intimate partners," the judge wrote. "In fact, the injuries sustained by Bellesen the night in question are consistent with the injuries inflicted by Glace on his current wife just months earlier."
Hilary Shaw, executive director of the Abbie Shelter, and Lance Jasper, Bellesen's attorney, each expressed relief Friday when told the Attorney General's Office won't file an appeal.
"I don't even have words to describe the joy that we are feeling right now," said Shaw.
"I'm glad they did the right thing," said Jasper.
Assistant editor Chad Sokol may be reached at 406-758-4439 or firstname.lastname@example.org.