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Cody Marble sits in the gallery during the hearing on his case in Missoula District Court in 2016.

Cody Marble starts the new year as a free man.

On Tuesday retired District Court Judge Ed McLean issued an order overturning Marble's conviction in a 2002 rape case involving a 13-year-old boy who was in juvenile detention with Marble in Missoula.

Marble said his attorney, Colin Stephens, called him Tuesday morning, but he didn’t pick up the phone. Then he heard Stephens on the line with his father Jerry, who has spent the years since Marble’s conviction working to prove his son is innocent.

“I heard him telling my dad, 'It’s over, we won,'” Marble said. “I’m just speechless. I don’t think I’ve seen him that relieved in 15 years.”

In his order, McLean wrote that the testimony provided at a Dec. 12 evidence hearing "undermines the confidence the Court has in Mr. Marble's criminal conviction" and ordered it vacated, setting the stage for a new trial.

Stephens, who for the last eight years has worked as Marble's attorney in his quest to have his conviction overturned, said he thinks it's unlikely the case will go to trial, given the county attorney's view of the allegations.

Missoula County Attorney Kirsten Pabst "has always been on board with putting an end to this," Stephens said.

Deputy County Attorney Matt Jennings confirmed Tuesday that prosecutors have filed a motion asking for the charge against Marble to be dismissed. They expect the request to be granted within the next few days, removing the need for another trial.

Marble, now 32, has maintained his innocence since being charged. In August 2015 the Montana Supreme Court sent his case back to Missoula County District Court, asking it to re-examine a decision to deny Marble a new trial, instructing the lower court to use a broader interpretation of how new evidence that has come out since his conviction should be viewed.

After the case was remanded, Pabst reviewed it and last spring filed a motion asking for the conviction to be dismissed, saying it "lacked integrity." The county attorney cited a recantation by Marble's since-deceased accuser, as well as testimony from others as casting doubt that the alleged rape ever occurred.

Former county attorney Fred Van Valkenburg, who was in office during Marble’s conviction, objected to Pabst’s motion, and was eventually invited by McLean to act as an adviser to the court while the judge considered the matter.

Marble has been living in Conrad since McLean released him from custody in April, pending the ruling in the case. He said Tuesday that after he and his dad celebrated the news, he left the house for a bit and took a drive.

“I went out and got some coffee. I just wanted to clear my head. Finally, after all this, it’s over,” he said.

Now free of any probation restrictions from the case, Marble said he wanted to thank his attorney and the Montana Innocence Project, which has likewise championed his case, for years of fighting in court for him.

“I’m hoping to be able to go back to school, stay away from drugs and make my life worth the work they put in on my behalf,” he said.

He also thanked Missoula County Attorney Pabst for conducting a thorough review of his case when it was sent back down by the high court.

“I’m not sure this would be happening without her. Thank God for Kirsten,” he said.

Jennings, the deputy county attorney, acknowledged that while a push to overturn a conviction and exonerate someone was an “interesting and unusual position” for their office to take, it fell under their responsibility as prosecutors.

“Our obligation goes beyond fighting for convictions and putting people in custody but fighting for justice, and in this case justice demanded that Cody Marble’s conviction be overturned,” he said.

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Law and Justice Reporter

Crime reporter for the Missoulian.