By Tim Leeds
Jacob Spang of Havre pleaded guilty Monday to a misdemeanor charge of partner assault.
Spang had faced a felony charge of aggravated assault. Hill County Attorney David Rice reduced the charge to a misdemeanor last week after two physicians said the victim's injuries were not permanent or life-threatening, which are requirements for the felony charge.
A plea agreement between Rice and Spang calls for a sentence of a year in jail with all but 30 days suspended, with credit for time served. Spang would have be remain law-abiding for a year and not consume alcohol or enter a bar. He would have to serve the year in jail if he violated those conditions.
The maximum penalty for the misdemeanor conviction is a year in jail and a $1,000 fine.
District Judge John Warner scheduled a hearing for Jan. 28 to consider the plea agreement, which he is not bound to follow.
Warner told Spang on Monday that since this is his second conviction for partner assault in five years, another conviction for partner assault or a similar offense would be a felony. Since he has been convicted of a felony in the last five years, this could result in him being classified as a persistent felony offender, a status that earns additional prison time.
Spang was found innocent of murder by accountability on June 14, 2000, in the double homicide of Kristi Walker and Kevin Caplette in 1999. He was convicted of tampering with evidence and two counts of intimidation by accountability in the case. He was accused of taking items from the victims' garage, taking the phone off the wall in their apartment, and unloading and reloading the gun used to kill the victims.
The Montana Supreme Court overturned the accountability convictions in 2002, ruling that statements Spang made after he said he needed a lawyer should not have been admitted at trial.
Rice decided not to retry Spang on the charges. Instead, Spang pleaded guilty on July 28 to one charge of accountability. Warner sentenced Spang to 981 days in prison, with credit for 981 days served.
The original charging document in the new case said that after turning himself in, Spang told a Havre police officer that he hit the victim after they had been drinking the night before. He said he remembered hitting her once, but had been drinking a lot and didn't remember the details, the document said.
The victim told police that she hit Spang once after he hit her, then he knocked her to the ground, stood on her arms and hit her several more times, the charging document said.
The victim later recanted her story.
Drs. Michael Nolan of Havre and Antonio Santin of Great Falls had initially said the woman's injuries appeared to be permanent or life-threatening. After examining the victim, Santin said the injuries were healing well and could not be considered extremely serious, and Nolan said the same, Rice said.