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GREAT FALLS (AP) - Cascade County prosecutors have reluctantly reached a plea agreement with a man accused of sexually assaulting a 3-year-old boy and killing a cat in front of the boy as part of a Halloween ritual in 2001.

Mark Sprague, 26, initially was charged with felony sexual assault and ritual abuse of a minor, but entered an Alford plea to misdemeanor negligent endangerment. In an Alford plea, a defendant admits only that the state has enough evidence against him to convict him at trial.

Court records show police believe Sprague also drank cat's blood in front of the boy and held a gun to the boy's head, threatening to shoot him.

The boy, now 5, was taken from his mother, who was Sprague's girlfriend. The woman told investigators Sprague said he would kill her if she told anyone about his activities, court records said.

However, her testimony proved unreliable, the boy's therapist's testimony was inadmissible and prosecutors didn't want to make the boy testify because he is too traumatized. The boy has been adopted.

District Judge Dirk Sandefur accepted the plea agreement and sentenced Sprague to a year in jail, suspending all but the 263 days already served. Sprague was released from jail Thursday afternoon.

"The decision to reach the agreement we did was one that we came to with a lot of anguish," said Deputy County Attorney Joel Thompson.

HAVRE (AP) _ A former state probation officer in Havre faces an official misconduct charge for allegedly engaging in sexual acts with a woman he was assigned to supervise.

Edward L. Schmidt, a 13-year-veteran with the state Department of Corrections, is accused of requiring the 40-year-old woman to call him excessively and talking to her about sexual matters, as well as engaging in sexual acts. He was charged in District Court on Thursday.

Schmidt, who had worked in Havre for 11 years, resigned in September, five days after meeting with a criminal investigator who was looking into the woman's allegations.

Schmidt told the investigator that the woman had called him repeatedly and wanted to talk about sexual matters, but he told her that they should not.

However, investigators found evidence of seminal fluid on the woman's couch and carpet and state crime lab analysis concluded that "genetic material found in the seminal fluid matched the genetic material collected from Schmidt."

The woman made the complaint on July 5, but the call and subsequent investigation were omitted from the Hill County sheriff's dispatch log.

Prior to November, the sheriff's office did not include complaints about sex crimes on their dispatch logs. Sheriff Greg Szudera said part of the reason the call was omitted was because deputies questioned the validity of the woman's complaint because she has two convictions of providing false reports to law enforcement.

BILLINGS (AP) _ A man who authorities believe was running an illegal sports betting operation since September 2001 was arraigned in District Court here Friday.

District Judge Ingrid Gustafson set bond at $25,000 for Thomas Byun.

He faces three felony counts: operation of an illegal gambling enterprise; solicitation to commit the offense of … operation of an illegal gambling enterprise; and credit gambling.

Among the allegations listed, authorities say Byun "purposely or knowingly obtained money or property by use of an illegal gambling enterprise, specifically sports betting."

State gambling officials seized $32,000 in cash when they arrested Byun recently, prosecutors said.

HAVRE (AP) _ Chippewa Cree tribal members have approved five amendments to the tribe's constitution and bylaws, including a change that calls for tribal judges to be appointed by the tribal council rather than elected.

The amendment also gives the council the authority to appoint a chief appellate court judge, who would appoint an unspecified number of appellate panel judges. The amendment passed by a 95-64 vote, in unofficial results released by the Bureau of Indian Affairs on Friday.

BIA field officer James Montes, who administered the election, said the issue of appointing judges instead of electing them is somewhat controversial.

"Some folks think there should be a separation of power. And with this appointment of judges, you're kind of getting away from that separation of power," Montes said. "But on the other hand, you know, there were a lot of individuals that felt that the judges should be more qualified rather than elected."

Four other amendments passed by greater margins in the secretarial election held Tuesday at Rocky Boy's Indian Reservation.

Voters adopted by a 125-31 margin an amendment to move the tribal council primaries, now held in June, to October. That would reduce the lame-duck period for tribal council members from six months to one month.

An amendment to increase the maximum penalty for misdemeanor convictions in tribal court from six months in jail and a fine of $500 to a year in jail and a fine of $5,000, passed 105-54.

By a 137-22 margin voters approved an amendment to prohibit tribal members who have been convicted of a felony in federal or state court from running for tribal office within five years of the end of their sentence. It also applies to people who have been convicted in state, tribal or federal court of the use, possession or sale of illegal drugs.

An amendment to delete a provision from the constitution that revoked tribal membership if a person has been away from the reservation for 10 years without coming before the tribal council to apply for an extension of his or her membership, passed 106-51.

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