By Martin J. Kidston
Accused of two counts of felony murder, 15-year-old Francine Spang appeared in leg irons in 12th Judicial District Court Tuesday afternoon for a pretrial hearing.
Francine Spang is charged with two counts of deliberate homicide under the felony murder rule, two counts of intimidation by accountability, theft and tampering with evidence. The charges stem from her alleged participation in the September shooting of Kristi Walker and Kevin Caplette over an $800 debt.
Spang pleaded innocent in October to each charge. She is the sister of Jacob Spang, who is also being charged with the same crime. They are both acquaintances with Reid Danell, who was allegedly the trigger man for the double murder.
At her pretrial hearing Tuesday afternoon, Francine Spang sat quietly as her attorney Steve Gannon motioned the court for an extension, arguing that the case's principal witness has not been located for questioning.
According to police reports, D.F., or Dawn Ferguson, overheard two of the crime's three suspects talking about killing someone, and allegedly saw the suspects playing with a gun prior to the double murder. The witness is also the owner of the 1992 Oldsmobile Achieva which the suspects stole to flee the scene after the shooting.
Arguing for an extension to the pretrial hearing, Gannon also cited a slow response by the State Crime Lab in processing evidence vital to the case. What's more, Gannon said, reports from the FBI's investigation, along with autopsy reports, have not been made available.
Concerned for Francine Spang's right to a speedy trial, Judge John Warner told Deputy County Prosecutor Aileen Miller that if the State Crime Lab could not commit to a date, he would have no choice but to force the prosecution to proceed without evidence.
"It is not our intention to have a negotiation period with the State Crime Lab," Warner told prosecutors. "I sympathize with your position, but if they can't adhere to a reasonable date, you'll have to go ahead without the evidence."
Miller cited the importance of evidence, such as the clothing worn by the suspects during the commission of the crime. Miller said the clothing bears various patterns of "blood splatter" which can be used to determine the position of Francine Spang in relation to the victims when the victims were shot. Miller also said that autopsy reports suggest Francine Spang was not truthful about her role in the crime when interviewed by police.
"The autopsy report is not entirely consistent with the statements that were given to us previously," Miller said. "It suggests that the youth was not truthful."
Miller said the coroner's report has revealed new evidence, but she would not comment on what that new evidence was, or on the alleged contradiction between the suspect's previous testimony and the findings of the report.
The pretrial hearing was delayed until Jan. 13, 2000, at which time Warner said he expects to proceed with the hearing.
"It's the role of the justice system to force these matters to trial," Warner said.
After Warner agreed to an extension, Gannon requested that Francine Spang be transferred to the Florence Crittenton Home in Helena. The move would allow her to attend school and receive counseling. Warner did not rule on the request, but rather, he told Gannon to look into the all-girls home, to see if it had proper security and procedures to accommodate Spang.
Gannon said that in the three months Francine Spang has been incarcerated, she has not received any visitors or family support.