A Whitefish man who has maintained he is innocent of molesting a child since his conviction in 1995 is asking the Flathead County District Court to clear his name.

Dale Hanson, 62, served 10 years in prison for sexual assault and deviate sexual conduct. However, he continues to dispute the judgements against him, and a petition pending in court cites potentially exculpatory evidence withheld from the jury in the trial nearly 20 years ago.

Since 2007, Hanson has been hiding in the Flathead Valley. His refusal to register as a sexual offender has prompted warrants for his arrest, so he remains underground to avoid incarceration and fight a legal battle that’s gone as far as the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

“I won’t accept anything but complete exoneration,” Hanson said in a recent telephone interview.

The Montana Supreme Court affirmed his conviction in 1997; the U.S. District Court of Appeals denied his petition for writ of habeas corpus in 2006; and then-Gov. Brian Schweitzer declined to issue a pardon in 2012, after a University of Montana law professor applied for clemency on Hanson’s behalf.

“I am convinced that he (Hanson) was wrongfully convicted at a time when hysteria about child sexual assault was at its highest and the protocols for investigating such charges were at their lowest,” lawyer and professor Jeffrey Renz said in the letter.

Renz and the Montana Innocence Project are representing Hanson in his most recent attempt to clear his name. In a petition for post-conviction relief filed in Flathead County District Court, Hanson asked the judge to reverse his earlier convictions and order a new trial – or find him not guilty.

The male identified as the victim in the original case could not be reached for comment. Hanson only spoke with the Missoulian by telephone, never revealing his whereabouts.


In court documents, Hanson makes the case that a jilted girlfriend pledged revenge against him and coaxed her young son into saying Hanson had abused him. The case against him mounted with an “overzealous” detective and a botched investigation; an environment that made acquitting an alleged sexual abuser politically unpalatable; and Hanson’s own naïve belief that his innocence would be his best defense, he said.

In 2006, U.S. Court of Appeals Judge Betty Fletcher, now deceased, wrote that the failure of Hanson’s lawyer to place vindictive voicemails into evidence “may have constituted ineffective assistance of counsel.” In one of the voicemails, the ex-girlfriend threatened she would “get even.”

“Because that plan might have included fabricating charges of child abuse, the tapes, had they been placed into evidence, could have influenced the jury’s decision regarding Hanson’s guilt,” Fletcher wrote. “Hanson’s trial counsel never sought to introduce the messages; under the circumstances, that failure may have constituted ineffective assistance of counsel.”

However, Fletcher also noted a procedural failure meant the court was “unable to untie the Gordian knot.”


Hanson met his girlfriend in 1990 when they were neighbors, and she and her son lived with him for a year and a half at his Whitefish home.

They had a volatile relationship, and finally broke up for the last time in 1994. Afterward, the woman left screaming, expletive-laden voicemails for Hanson, who provided the recordings to the Missoulian. In one, the woman said, “I’m gonna make sure that my life goal is to just prove every single day how much I hate you.”

A short time later, she went to police and said her son told her that Hanson had washed the boy’s private parts, according to the petition for pardon. It said a detective interviewed the boy, and he reported Hanson asked him to perform oral sex.

In the pardon request, Hanson said he, his girlfriend and her son “frequently showered together,” and “a few times,” the boy showered only with Hanson or his mother. In an interview, Hanson said the family did so to save money, and the only time he was alone with the boy was during the brief moments when his girlfriend would exit the bath first.

He adamantly denied that he was involved in any sexually inappropriate behavior, and said he and the boy were victims of her vendetta.

“He knows that I never did anything inappropriate with him. He knows that for a fact because it never happened,” Hanson said.

In a recorded video, letters of support and signed affidavits, more than one dozen character witnesses speak on behalf of Hanson. In sworn statements, two longtime business owners said they warned the detective against trusting testimony from the ex-girlfriend, as she was “violently and jealously upset about her breakup.”


In March 1994, Hanson was arrested.

“It just hit me out of the blue like a bolt of lightning,” Hanson said. “I never saw it coming, never would have believed it in a million years.”

As he describes it, the trial proceedings resembled a kangaroo court:

• The detective who interviewed the child disregarded protocol that called for recording the sessions, and she testified she did not want the interviews to be seen by defense attorneys, his petition says.

• The jury never heard the angry voicemails, including one where Hanson’s ex-girlfriend says, “I’m gonna f’n get even.” “The tape is persuasive evidence that the mother may have fabricated the charges and influenced her son,” reads the court document.

• None of the people who wanted to testify as character witnesses on behalf of Hanson were called to the stand.

In 1995, the jury found Hanson guilty, and he was sentenced to the Montana State Prison.


According to Hanson, his public defender told him after the trial that his hands were tied against mounting a more vigorous defense if he wanted to have a career in Flathead County. Charles Harball is now the Kalispell city attorney, and he denies making such a statement to Hanson.

“It was a real tough case, and it was a very dysfunctional situation (between Hanson and his girlfriend),” Harball said last week.

At the end, Hanson became angry with him and the judge, and the defendant created a conspiracy and even threatened Harball, the city attorney said. He said he doesn’t believe a grand scheme existed to put Hanson in prison, but he does believe “there was some overzealousness at the sheriff’s office at the time.”

Harball said both Hanson and his ex left nasty messages for each other, and placing voicemails into evidence wouldn’t paint anyone in a good light. He also said obtaining a “not guilty” verdict for allegations made by the child was going to be an uphill battle.

“Most of the people looked at a person like that as being a little bit like a monster,” Harball said.

Harball, though, isn’t convinced Hanson is guilty of the crimes, but he does think the man was guilty of bad judgement in dating a “wacky” woman who used her child for her own purpose.

“I think the mother did do a lot to try to plant things in the kid’s head. I think she was capable of doing that,” Harball said.

The woman involved in the case also could not be reached for comment by the Missoulian.


Hanson went to prison in 1995.

According to his petition, he would have had better conditions in confinement had he enrolled in sex offender treatment. “He refused out of principle.” For the same reason, he lost the opportunity to be paroled, although the sentence and review board suspended half his sentence after hearing the recorded phone messages.

Upon his release, Hanson was immediately arrested for refusing to register as a sex offender. After 11 months in jail, his lawyer told him he faced a life behind bars, and Hanson agreed to register – once – with the written caveat he was doing so not as an admission of guilt but to avoid further incarceration.

Cris Coughlin, former council member and Whitefish mayor, is among the friends and advocates who have provided references for Hanson since. She and Hanson became friends in the 1980s because they kayaked and skied with the same group of people.

“I believe in our justice system, but this was not one of our finest hours,” Coughlin said in an interview.

She said Hanson trusted that his innocence guaranteed his acquittal, so instead of hiring a tough lawyer, he used the public defenders.

At the time, she said, witnesses watching the case unfold believed Hanson didn’t get a fair shake in court because the case was politically charged: “They didn’t want to be tarnished in the eyes of the public in letting an alleged sex offender off.”


Professor Renz and the Montana Innocence Project declined to comment on the case, but Hanson provided a video Renz produced with the Criminal Defense Clinic. It includes the voicemails and more than an hour of testimony from friends, business acquaintances and others.

Jerri Swenson testified as a therapist who is familiar with the way the investigation of abuse has evolved, and she visited with the Missoulian. Around the time Hanson was convicted, people were beginning to come out of the closet about their sexual abuse, she said.

“So there were overzealous therapists and overzealous prosecutors looking for sexual abusers under every rock,” Swenson said.

At the time, she said, professionals believed that if a child made an accusation of sexual assault, it was true. Now, she said, it’s clear that some people have repressed memories, but others have been manipulated.

“You can implant memories, and therapists did that a lot back then because the therapist believed sexual abuse occurred,” Swenson said.

Swenson also commented on the practice the then-family of three had of showering together: “Lots of people are inappropriate, but not criminal. It’s different,” she said. “That shows mom’s poor boundaries more than anything. He’s not a parent.”


In August, District Court Judge Robert Allison ordered Hanson to “personally attend a deposition scheduled by the state” and said his failure to do so could result in “dismissal with prejudice of this cause of action.”

In a response, Hanson’s lawyers asked the judge to vacate the order. A court filing from Montana Innocence Project lawyer Larry Mansch describes the state’s request to depose Hanson as a “thinly veiled effort to arrest him and subject him to coercive confinement while his petition is before this court.”

A ruling on the matter is pending in Flathead County District Court.

Hanson’s ex-girlfriend did not respond to a Facebook message and could not be reached by phone. Her son, who was 8 years old when he testified in court, did not return a message left at his work; in a later call, an employee who answered the phone declined to put him on the line.

Reach Keila Szpaller at @keilaszpaller, at keila.szpaller@missoulian.com or at (406) 523-5262.

Reporter for the Missoulian

(12) comments


Sorry Basswhacker you are all wrong! Barry confessed to 2 detectives down South somehwere to killing Kim as well as killing 2 other women who were found murdered (these detectives were later found to have coerced many suspects and alot of their cases had to be thrown out). There is no physical evidence tying Barry to the crime scene - he did not know the details of the case - his confession was totally bogus and lacking in key details. I believe this was a group of girls whom Kim went to school with - funny that the father of one was a police officer and some of the "evidence" went missing??? Also, there have been many reports through the years of people being at parties where one or more of these girls actually admit to the crime. Racaiot should have been disbarred the way he prosecuted this case. Barry needs to be let out of prison.


At a Montana Legislative, Law and Justice meeting last year 2012, Senator Shockley proclaimed that a minimum of 15% of persons in Montana prisons are innocent. Montana prisons and jails and the Department of Corrections reflect the ideology of a cold callused and barbaric or social pathetic way of doing business. I'm sure this man experienced brutality while in prison custody. The Montana Supreme Court is flawed and biased in criminal law beyond belief. It is high time that investigators, police, prosecutors and most importantly, District Court Judges need to be held accountable. Accountable not only during elections but in the their pocket books as well as accountability criminally. I call on the Montana Attorney General, Tim Fox, to investigate complaints pertaining to false and embellished claims made by all persons including investigators and prosecutors and to change the State's policy and position of no fault and fighting to keep innocent persons incarcerated. This is a political matter that needs every ones attention. Particularly the Governor. Does anyone remember the commandment; Thou Shalt not Bear False Witness Against Thy Neighbor?


Totally agree with you, Rockwell, Look at how Barry Beach has been locked away - everyone knows he is innocent yet, there he sits because of our former Governor, Marc Racoit for withholding crucial evidence and not pursuing leads in this case. I hope Steve Bullock will have the heart to do the right thing and exonerate him.

Bass Whacker
Bass Whacker

Please do not compare this situation to a man who in 1983 was under arrest for contributing to the delinquency of two under age girls, and 3 days after his arrest and having been given 10 Miranda warnings and waived them in writing, confessed to killing Kimberly Nees in 1979, giving facts of the murder not known to the public, while maintaining at the same time his innocence of killing 3 girls in Louisiana, for which he was also being investigated. Barry Beach may not be a monster now but he sure was in 1979, and anybody who thinks he is innocent now has been duped by false proclaimers whose tesimony cannot be verified 34 years after the fact. Because of Barry Beach's intimate knowledge of the crime for which he was convicted, it is clear he was at the crime scene when it was committed and has never identified anyone but himself as the killer. It's true Barry Beach was 16 or 17 when he killed Kimberly Nees and 20 when he confessed, but his innocence campaign and failure to acknowledge his responsibility is what is likely going to keep him in prison for the rest of his life. And unlike this situation, although Barry Beach was a suspect from the beginning, the Montana authorites did not charge or prosecute him until after he confessed.

Bass Whacker
Bass Whacker

Oh, I forgot to mention Barry Beach also confessed to killing Kimberly Nees a second time, two days later, in a recorded confession in the presence of his attorney. Only people who know none of these facts are gullible enough to swallow today's claims of innocence.


Any child molester can gain immunity of legal prosecution by being a Catholic Priest!


Any woman who will allow their child to shower with her and her 'boyfriend' that is not the father does not have the judgment and ethics required to successfully raise a child. Saving money? Give me a flippin' break. If this is true, those two adults are both freaks.


Some therapist /psychologist do not know the difference between three dog down and a shower before entering the water of a public pool. The mantra( quacks)dispensed is the possibility, a wide variety or selection, a possibility that such symptoms of a single or many Dx. exist, Law enforcement investigating a crime dismissed protocol. That is terrible but apparently not uncommon.


Wow....wacky women? Overzealous prosecutors, unprofessional mental health specialists, public defenders who were far too concerned with their personal future success to actually perform the duties of the office they occupied, corrupt police officers and the list goes on and on. I remember those days as being days I was thoroughly happy being married, secure in the comfort that a solid, core family provided. Never in our history has there been a more dangerous time for a single man. I remember then as that time when every wackjob liberal Hollywood starlet was being convinced by their stellar therapists that they had been molested and, of course, some horrible man was responsible and had to be brought to justice. I remember the two lesbians from the university who got caught burning their own house down and trying to get away with calling it a hate crime...remember that one? I actually thought there was no way that things could get any worse. Was I a fool. or what?


some crack brains provide protocol and other see that protocol is followed, some are busy pandering for funds, not out looking for criminals or gaps in protocol. how many biased individuals deny improper protocol to avoid sanctions and jeopardizing professional privilege?


I also recall that time, and you are absolutely correct. The incompetent defense provided by this poor guy's attorney, in addition to the almost lynch mob hysteria over child molestation during this period, did not result in a fair trial.


" They didn't want to be tarnished in the eyes of the public by letting a sex offender off..." Oh really? So they decided he was guilty and the even while the sheriffs department was " a little overzealoous"..as the incompetent counsel puts it, I see nothing about a medical report or any kind of overzealous behavior by the ex girlfriend until AFTER the breakup. If the child was really being abused without coaxing from the mother would you not go to the police immediately, not to mention move away from the suspect until you knew the truth. Not what the ex did at all. This case is filled with holes and should be overturned. The idea that women do not do this kind of thing is myth. It happens more than you would imagine.

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