Roundup man convicted of murder alleges misconduct — (The Billings Gazette)

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The Billings Gazette

By GREG TUTTLE Of The Gazette Staff

A Roundup man serving a 50-year prison sentence for murder has appealed his case to the Montana Supreme Court.

Bobby Cooksey, 69, has filed an appeal alleging juror and prosecutorial misconduct at his trial for the shooting death of his neighbor, Tracy Beardslee, on July 9, 2009.

In the appeal filed Oct. 27, Cooksey also alleges that the judge who presided at the trial was wrong to exclude evidence of Beardslee’s use of antidepressant drugs, and law enforcement officers failed to properly investigate his claim that the shooting was self-defense.

Cooksey and Beardslee, 48, were neighbors at the end of a private road 12 miles southeast of Roundup. The men were embroiled in a dispute over an easement Beardslee maintained through Cooksey’s property.

Cooksey testified at his trial in September 2010 that Beardslee had threatened him and he shot the man in self-defense. Prosecutors said Beardslee was unarmed and was killed while trimming weeds. A jury deliberated for more than six hours before finding Cooksey guilty of deliberate homicide.

The appeal, filed on Cooksey’s behalf by the Office of the State Public Defender, seeks a new trial or, in the alternative, a hearing on alleged misconduct by a juror during the trial. The juror is accused of telling other jurors during deliberations that her mother-in-law had on occasion asked Beardslee to leave her house.

Other jurors and potential jurors committed acts that Cooksey’s public defenders say tainted the trial, including the “fulminations” of one prospective juror who “boisterously adjudged that Cooksey killed Beardslee in cold blood.”

The appeal also attacks a ruling by Musselshell County District Judge Randall Spaulding, who determined that evidence showing Beardslee had been taking the antidepressant drug Paxil would not be allowed at Cooksey’s trial.

“The evidence that Beardslee was using Paxil during their encounter corroborated Cooksey’s repeated statements that Beardslee was acting agitated, aggressive and crazy and tended to show Cooksey’s use of deadly force was objectively reasonable,” the appeal states.

Law enforcement officers who investigated the shooting failed to check out Cooksey’s claim of self-defense, the appeal states, and a prosecutor committed misconduct during closing statements when he told jurors they should find Cooksey guilty “to protect society” and “to protect your neighbors.”

Cooksey’s wife, Debra, has filed a brief to intervene in the appeal.

According to court records, she is asking the Supreme Court to decide whether Spaulding was correct to order the sale of eight firearms seized from her residence to help pay restitution to Beardslee’s family. The guns belong to Debra, the brief states, and were not used in the shooting of Beardslee.