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Montana News Briefs - Dec 25

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POLSON (AP) - Two brothers have pleaded not guilty to raping a woman during a house party in Ronan earlier this month.

Clarence Brien, 27, and Kenneth Brien, 25, both of Ronan are each being held at the Lake County jail on $10,000 bail. Pretrial hearings are slated for Jan. 19.

The victim, whose name and age were not revealed in charging documents, vomited and passed out after drinking vodka that Kenneth Brien brought to the Dec. 9 party, court documents state.

The Brien brothers then partially undressed the woman in a bedroom and had sex with her, court documents state.

Clarence Brien allegedly used a camera phone to take pictures of the woman while she was unconscious and passed out, transmitting the photos to an acquaintance. The woman was conscious during part of the alleged attack, and later told relatives she had been raped.

HELENA (AP) _ Fire devastated the home of a Jefferson County couple last week and killed their two dogs.

Lucille Balser suffered several broken bones when she jumped from a second-story deck to escape the Dec. 19 blaze, said her husband, Donald Balser. She also suffered frostbite in the frigid temperatures.

Donald Balser, who was working out of town at the time, said a neighbor spotted the fire. No one else was home, but the couple's two dogs were killed.

Investigators were looking into the cause of the fire at the home south of Jefferson City, Donald Balser said. The home is insured, but insurance won't likely cover the entire cost of repairing it.

A fund to help the Balsers with expenses has been set up at the East Helena Valley Bank.

BILLINGS (AP) _ A Billings man allowed to post bond and leave the state while awaiting trial for the killing of a 3-year-old boy last year is back in custody.

Thomas Larson, 24, was arrested last week in Minnesota on drunken driving charges. He is expected to be extradited to Billings to face charges he violated conditions of his pretrial release order.

Larson is awaiting trial on a charge of deliberate homicide for the September 2004 death of toddler Ropati Mulipola. Larson's wife, Jennifer Larson, and the boy's mother, Jessica Thompson, also have been charged with murder and are awaiting trial.

Prosecutors say Ropati died Sept. 7, 2004, three days after he was beaten as punishment for twisting the arm of the Larsons' 14-month-old daughter. Authorities say the boy was also shaken and dropped on his head.

Thomas Larson's trial is scheduled to begin next month, although court officials said it will likely be rescheduled.

HELENA (AP) _ Nearly 390 children from low-income families are on a waiting list for a program that pays their medical and dental care expenses.

Started in 1993, the Caring Program for Children is currently serving 455 children across the state whose families have no access to private insurance and don't qualify for Medicaid, officials said.

It costs $480 to enroll one child in the Caring Program for a year.

The Helena-based Caring Foundation has raised more than $2 million for the program since it began. Donations and reduced rates from health care professionals and all of the state's hospitals enabled officials to pay the $322,880 it took to cover the children currently enrolled, Caring Foundation and Caring Program coordinator Trinda Smith said.

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