A Missoula woman charged in the killing and dismemberment of two people whose bodies were found mutilated in her basement, and also is accused in a break-in and stabbing in a different home, will have separate trials in those cases.
Tiffanie Pierce and Augustus Standingrock each face two counts of deliberate homicide after the bodies of 15-year-old Marilyn Pickett and 24-year-old Jackson Wiles were found in tubs filled with chemicals at Pierce’s home in August.
In January, prosecutors also charged Pierce with felonies for attempted homicide and assault with a weapon, stemming from an alleged July incident at a different house where Pierce — accompanied by a man who demanded drugs and money — is accused of repeatedly stabbing a woman. While court documents indicate that Standingrock may have been involved in the July home invasion, he has not been charged.
Pierce originally was scheduled to go on trial in September on all charges facing her from both incidents, but on Monday retired District Court Judge James Wheelis — who was brought in to oversee Pierce’s court case — issued an order severing the charges, and setting a pair of trials.
In late May, Wheelis heard argument from Pierce’s attorney as well as Missoula County Attorney Kirsten Pabst on the defendant’s request to have her court case separated. Lisa Kauffman, one of the attorneys representing Pierce, pointed out that the two cases involved different places and times, with different victims.
She also said that grouping all of the felonies into one trial would prejudice jurors, who might conclude that if she was guilty in one of the incidents it must mean she was guilty of the other. Kauffman also was concerned because Pierce may testify in her defense regarding one of the incidents, but maintain her Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination in the other.
Pabst argued that Pierce had a similar mindset and objectives in both incidents and that there were enough shared witnesses and evidence that trying the cases at the same time made sense from a legal and efficiency perspective.
In his order Monday, the judge agreed that while some evidence and witnesses may cross over, the potential for unfair prejudice — particularly given the types of photos that will be introduced in both cases — “cannot be ignored.”
And while Pabst had shown the judge photos of the injuries to victims in both incidents at May’s hearing, arguing that the location and type of stab wounds were similar, Wheelis wrote that “knife attacks all bear similarities to one another.”
Wheelis' order specified that the deliberate homicide charges will be dealt with at the already-scheduled September trial, while the home invasion charges will be set for later.