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More than 14 years after rape conviction, Missoula man finally exonerated

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Cody Marble (MTN News file photo) Cody Marble (MTN News file photo)
HELENA -

More than 14 years after being convicted of a jailhouse rape he said never occurred, a Missoula man has finally been exonerated.

State District Judge Ed McLean ruled Tuesday that new evidence and other facts of the case “undermines the confidence the court has in (the) criminal conviction” of Cody Marble, and that the 2002 conviction should be vacated.

McLean also ordered a new trial – but the Missoula County attorney’s office said Tuesday it won’t pursue one, and filed to dismiss the charge against Marble, and wipe his record clean.

“The office of the prosecutor is much more than just fighting for convictions all the time,” deputy county attorney Matt Jennings told MTN News. “We truly believe that our role is to fight for justice. And in this case, with Cody Marble, justice required his conviction to be put aside.”

Missoula County Attorney Kirsten Pabst’s office had reinvestigated the case last year and filed last April to dismiss the charge, leading eventually to Tuesday’s order.

In a telephone interview from Conrad, Marble said the order is “like a dream come true” – but that it was a long time coming.

“All I could think, was, it’s finally happening, I can finally get my life back,” he said. “I could never believe this happened to me to begin with. …

“(But) it makes me feel like in the end, at least, there is some right in the world and the right thing happened. It just took so long.”

Marble, 32, has been living in Conrad with his father, Jerry, after being released from prison last April, when Pabst filed to dismiss the charge.

“We gave each other a big hug and get teared up,” Jerry Marble said, when they heard the news Tuesday. “This has been a long road. It would have been 15 years in March.”

Marble was convicted of the charge in November 2002, eight months after a group of fellow inmates at the Missoula County Juvenile Detention Center accused him of raping a fellow inmate in the shower area of the jail. He was 17 at the time of the alleged crime.

Marble denied that the crime ever occurred, saying he’d been set up by inmates who didn’t like him. After the conviction, he was sentenced to 20 years in prison, with 15 years suspended.

Marble has been trying all these years to overturn the conviction. He eventually had assistance from the Montana Innocence Project, whose staff convinced the alleged victim, Robert Thomas, to recant his testimony.

But Thomas later took back his recantation, and Marble’s conviction was upheld by a judge’s ruling in 2013. Thomas, a prison inmate at the time, was paroled later that year, but then killed himself during a 21-hour standoff with Havre police in April 2014.

Marble appealed the decision to the Montana Supreme Court, which overruled the 2013 order and sent it back to Missoula County for further action.

Pabst then decided to reinvestigate the case and in April asked McLean to dismiss the charge against Marble.

But the former county attorney, Fred Van Valkenburg, objected and asked to intervene in the case, to argue that the conviction should stand.

McLean held a pair of hearings on the case, including a final one last month, and decided Tuesday to vacate the charge.

He said the testimony of Innocence Project staffers and the recantations of Thomas, “taken together with the other evidence as a whole,” convinced him that the conviction should not stand.

Jerry Marble complimented Pabst’s work on the case, saying “the people of Missoula County should feel very fortunate that they have someone with such integrity leading the county attorney’s office.”

He also said his son’s conviction couldn’t have been overturned without the help of the Innocence Project and Missoula lawyer Colin Stephens, who took on the case several years ago.

Cody Marble said he doesn’t have any immediate plans, but would like to do some traveling around Montana and eventually go to college.

“I’ve been cooped up so much, for so long, there’s one thing I want to do is spread my wings and go see the way the rest of the world works,” he said. “I thought my life was trashed, a few different times.”

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