BILLINGS, Mont. – A Montana man is seeking to dismiss charges that he killed his disabled elderly father, saying a sheriff's deputy who had the crime scene professionally cleaned was a beneficiary in the victim's will and stood to profit by destroying evidence in the case.
Dawson County Chief Deputy Brett Hoagland was a friend and neighbor of Wilbur Fisher, 80, who was missing both legs and could use just one arm.
Prosecutors allege Fisher was shot through the eye last October by his son, Todd, at their home near Glendive, about 200 miles (320 kilometers) northeast of Billings. Investigators found a gun in the bushes outside the house, and said witnesses reported the son was often berated by the father and stressed about caring for him.
But Hoagland's involvement has complicated efforts to secure a conviction and could derail the case altogether.
Todd Fisher has pleaded not guilty to charges of deliberate homicide and tampering with evidence. Montana District Judge Michael Hayworth did not immediately rule on the request to dismiss the case.
During a Monday court hearing, Hoagland said he cleaned the crime scene as a favor to the family. He did so despite being ordered by Sheriff Ross Canen to stay away from the house because of his ties to the Fishers, the Billings Gazette reported .
Investigators testified they spent two days collecting evidence at the Fisher house prior to the cleaning and had cleared the crime scene. Canen said he no longer considered it a murder scene.
Defense attorneys asserted Hoagland ordered the cleaning to benefit from Wilbur Fisher's death. Hoagland would move up the list of beneficiaries if Todd Fisher is convicted because the defendant would lose his status in his father's will.
Scrubbing the crime scene potentially destroyed evidence that could have proved some other suspect was responsible or that the death was a suicide, the defense said.
"Given Chief Deputy Hoagland's training and experience, the question remains as to what other possible motive he could have held to purposely destroy the crime scene," public defender Cynthia Thornton wrote in a court brief.
Wilbur Fisher had lost both legs and the use of one arm, and Hoagland would sometimes check in on him when he was alive.
The cleaning service hired by Hoagland removed bloody carpet, linen and a mattress, and scrubbed walls in the room where Fisher's body was found.
"It seemed like it needed to be done," Hoagland said. "When I got up there, it was already starting to smell and I was worried about insect infestation, a rodent problem in the house. I didn't want the whole place to be destroyed because of that."
Information from: The Billings Gazette, http://www.billingsgazette.com