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Montana Supreme Court rules man accused of decades-old rape of Billings girl won't face charges

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HELENA - Charges against a man accused of raping an 8-year-old Billings girl three decades ago were dismissed Thursday by the Montana Supreme Court.

The court ruled that the statute of limitations had passed for Ronald Dwight Tipton of White Sulphur Springs to face three charges of sexual intercourse without consent with a minor for the 1987 unsolved crime. He is not in custody.

Forensic experts had identified Tipton as the alleged rapist only after another man, Jimmy Ray Bromgard, was wrongly convicted and served 15 years in prison for the crime. Bromgard was exonerated and released in 2002 after new DNA tests were conducted.

Yellowstone County District Court Judge Mary Jane Knisely had denied Tipton's request to dismiss the charges in late 2017. She ruled that because he had been charged within a year of a DNA test indicating he was the rapist, state law allowed prosecutors to still file charges for the cold case. 

The state had obtained Tipton's DNA because of a felony drug conviction for drug possession in Meagher County. Forensic experts matched his DNA to the cold case in 2014.

The Supreme Court's decision was unanimous.

In her written opinion, Justice Beth Baker noted the crime against the girl was a "horrific, repugnant act that the people of Montana expect will be punished for the protection of the victim and society" and the case against Tipton was "strong" with "compelling evidence." 

Nevertheless, the court could not ignore Tipton's constitutional rights to be free from prosecution after the statute of limitations expires.

By Montana law, the statute of limitation for sexual intercourse without consent with a minor expired in 2001, or five years after the victim turned 18. 

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