HELENA - Lewis and Clark County District Judge Kathy Seeley vacated the convictions in a decades-old murder case Friday and ordered a new trial.
Seeley vacated the deliberate homicide, aggravated kidnapping and robbery convictions of Paul Jenkins and Freddie Lawrence.
Lawrence and Jenkins were convicted of the 1994 murder of Donna Meagher and the robbery of the Jackson Creek Saloon.
The Montana Innocence Project picked up the case and secured a court hearing in March, arguing DNA evidence exonerated the two men.
In the order filed Friday in Lewis and Clark Co. District Court, Seeley wrote that DNA evidence provided no links to Jenkins and Lawrence but did provide a match to “a man known to have committed similar violent kidnappings, robberies and, in Deer Lodge, Homicides.”
She also writes that a reported admission to the crime by convicted murderer David Nelson to a family member are more consistent with the physical evidence.
Seeley determined that new evidence could reasonably lead to a new outcome at trial. A status conference and bail hearing are to be scheduled as soon as possible.
“We are very pleased with the Court’s Order overturning the convictions against Fred Lawrence and Paul Jenkins,” said Larry Mansch, Legal Director for the Montana Innocence Project.