Plans Moving Ahead For Sidney Trial

A new trial for Kyle Lee Severson is being planned.

Richland County Attorney Charity McLarty says a scheduling conference is set for 2 p.m. on May 13. McLarty will serve as prosecutor in the case. District Judge Olivia Rieger has set Severson’s bond at $1 million in the case.

Severson remains in prison for tampering. He has served about five years after being sentenced for eight years on that charge. A parole hearing is anticipated to occur soon.

The new trial for Severson is planned in Richland County. “As of right now it will be unless if they request a change of venue,” McLarty said.

The Montana Supreme Court ruled on April 9 that the “cumulative effect” of errors during the 2020 trial of Severson for homicide entitled him to a new trial.

Severson was convicted of mitigated deliberate homicide in the 2019 shooting of Tyler Hayden and sentenced to 40 years in prison.

Severson’s attorneys claimed that the State violated his rights to due process by failing to disclose favorable evidence as required under Brady v. Maryland and Montana law. The evidence included investigative reports of a burglary of Severson’s home and the contents of Dalton Watson’s cell phone.

According to court documents when Severson’s girlfriend, Karina Orozco, returned home on the night of the shooting, she discovered their home had been burglarized. In the ensuing investigation, police identified Keaston Johns, Logan Krauser and Immanuel Brown as the primary suspects of the burglary. Johns was Hayden’s girlfriend at the time of the shooting.

The Montana Supreme Court notes that Brady evidence need not itself be admissible to trigger due process protections; it need have only the “potential to lead directly to admissible exculpatory evidence.”

The court wrote, “The favorability of the investigative reports should have been obvious to the State as early as Aug. 7, 2019. On that date, Watson admitted to receiving items stolen from Karina. The information contained in the reports connected the burglary directly to Watson and Hayden. Watson received proceeds from the burglary-from Hayden’s girlfriend-on the night of the shooting. The information connecting the burglary to the shooting had the potential to lead directly to the discovery of other exculpatory evidence, namely the contents of Watson’s cell phone.”

The Supreme Court suggested that former Richland County Attorney Janet Christoffersen intentionally hid evidence that was likely to have made a difference at Severson’s trial. ”The misconduct again contributes to the court’s consideration of cumulative error,” the ruling noted. “Given the string of missteps and errors in the case, namely the prosecutor’s implicit suggestion to the jury through improper questioning that Severson and (his girlfriend) were drug dealers and the state’s failure to disclose the burglary information - all going to the essential issue of witness credibility - we conclude this is ‘the rare case in which the cumulative effect of the errors’ has prejudiced the defendant’s right to a fair trial.”

On July 2, 2019, Severson, his girlfriend Karina Orozco, her sister Jessica Orozco, and Severson’s and Karina’s 3-year-old daughter drove to the Loaf ‘N Jug convenience store in Sidney. Severson was sitting in the rear passenger seat of the vehicle. When Karina and Jessica entered the store; Severson and his daughter stayed in the car. Six minutes later, Hayden and Watson arrived at the store and parked next to Karina’s vehicle. Both Watson and Hayden entered the store. After a few minutes, Watson returned to his vehicle. Karina and Jessica exited the store roughly 45 seconds later. Twenty seconds after that, Hayden exited and returned to the passenger side of Watson’s vehicle.

After briefly confirming with Watson that Severson was in the back seat of Karina’s car, Hayden turned and approached Severson’s open window. Words were exchanged from Hayden as he came close to the vehicle. As Hayden approached, Severson raised a .38 caliber handgun, shot Hayden at close range, and killed him.

 

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