The defense for one of two men charged in a double homicide in downtown Missoula last year made its case Thursday to have his client's case moved to juvenile court.
Preston Rossbach, now 19 years old, was 17 when prosecutors allege he stole the gun used in a shooting at the Mountain Valley Inn that left two people dead and one man wounded.
Greg Rapkoch, Rossbach's attorney, brought experts to testify Thursday on the potential benefits of bringing his client's case to juvenile court, citing primarily a better chance at rehabilitation efforts that recognize Rossbach's traumatic upbringing.
Prosecutors have fought against Rapkoch's request since it was filed in March. Rossbach turned 18 just days before he and Jonathan Whitworth went into a room at the Mountain Valley Inn looking for their drug dealer who had given them "bad drugs," according to prosecutors. Although the dealer was not in the room, authorities allege Whitworth instead shot the three people there, killing Jason Flink, 23, and Megan McLaughlin, 31, and wounding Kaleb Williams. Rossbach allegedly stabbed two of the victims on the way out of the room in order to finish the killings.
Paul Kelly, a family friend of Rossbach's and the owner of tree trimming service that employed both defendants, said Rossbach was an impressionable young man on a crew of hard drinkers that appeared to get involved with methamphetamine.
"Preston doesn't even seem as old as he is to me. He just seems like a kid," Kelly said.
Rapkoch brought experts from out of state to talk about the disparity of Native Americans in the criminal justice system. Rossbach is from Dixon, located on the Flatead Reservation north of Missoula.
Dr. Elizabeth Cauffman, a professor of psychological science at the University of California-Irvine, also testified on the emotional development of youth at Rossbach's age.
"Even as young adults, under stress, they look like teenagers," she said.
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Cauffman said during testimony that incarceration can stunt, and even erode, teenagers' emotional development.
"You don't get to decide when to wake up, when to go to bed, what to eat," she said. "Those things are decided for you."
If Rossbach's case is transferred to youth court and he is convicted, he would most likely be subject to community counseling, substance abuse testing and probation-style check ins, testified Terry White, a probation officer in Missoula.
In terms of secure treatment options, "Those resources aren't available to us," White said.
Deputy Missoula County Attorney Jordan Kilby asked White if he thought youth court would have jurisdiction over Rossbach's case.
"Based on the fact the defendant was 18 when it occurred, I would say that we do not," White answered.
Rossbach is charged with two counts of accountability to deliberate homicide, two counts of tampering with witnesses and evidence, two counts of intimidation and assault with a weapon.
Judge Leslie Halligan, who took over the case for Karen Townsend when she retired earlier this year, will wait until after Dec. 4 to issue a ruling on the youth court transfer.
A date for Rossbach's trial, if it stays in adult court, has been set for March 2.