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Judge says defense attorneys want to 'derail' prosecution in taking death penalty off table

Judge says defense attorneys want to 'derail' prosecution in taking death penalty off table

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A district judge told the Montana Supreme Court on Tuesday that his orders allowing prosecutors to seek the death penalty in a deliberate homicide case should stand.

Judge David Cybulski, of the state's 15th Judicial District, told the high court that defense counsel was merely seeking to derail or delay the prosecution of their client, and that his orders were legally sound. 

The case in Roosevelt County was filed in February against Clovis Christopher Geno, 55, for the January strangulation death of his girlfriend, Ramona Hilton Naramore, 62. 

Attorneys with the Office of the Public Defender had twice been denied by Cybulski in their efforts to get the death penalty removed as a possible sentence in the case. On Friday, they asked the Montana Supreme Court to step in, saying the lower court was erring by allowing prosecutors to seek the death penalty without following certain legal steps.

The judge wrote that defense attorneys were attempting to "derail the prosecution of this matter or at least postpone prosecution of this case" by filing a petition for a writ of supervisory control.

The writ allows the Montana Supreme Court to step in when asked in cases where a lower court is proceeding under a mistake of law. The writs are issued only when the normal appeals process is found to be inadequate.

Cybulski said it was clear that defense attorneys were notified from the start that prosecutors intended to seek the death penalty. 

The judge also said the legal steps defense attorneys asserted were being bypassed were not, in fact, required. 

Attorneys with the Office of the State Public Defender Greg Rapkoch and Alisha Backus had said a special filing was required in order for the state to pursue the death penalty. 

The case is being prosecuted by Roosevelt County Attorney Austin Knudsen and Deputy County Attorney Frank Piocos. 

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