The Montana Supreme Court on Wednesday upheld the conviction of a Bozeman man who was twice found guilty of attempted homicide.
Christopher Wagner, 38, was convicted in 2008 and sentenced to 60 years in prison for shooting Michael Peters in a southeast Bozeman neighborhood in 2007.
After an appeal, the Montana Supreme Court sent the case back to Gallatin County District Court in 2009, saying Wagner’s constitutional rights were violated when a prosecutor implied that Wagner’s refusal to speak with investigators after his arrest was indicative of guilt.
After a second trial, another jury found Wagner guilty in 2010. He was sentenced to 60 years in prison without parole.
The conviction stemmed from a shooting on Jan. 17, 2007. Wagner had been living in Colorado. He fled the state to Bozeman to find Peters, who had briefly dated Wagner’s ex-girlfriend.
Wagner tracked Peters down on Gardner Park Drive and, as Peters left his home in a truck, Wagner flagged him down.
Peters shot at Wagner first, hitting him in the chest after Wagner had brandished a gun. Wagner shot Peters three times, claiming it was self-defense.
In his latest appeal to the Montana Supreme Court, Wagner claimed his constitutional rights were violated because the police failed to preserve the crime scene by allowing Peters’ father to rummage through the vehicle.
Peters’ father removed Peters’ .32-caliber handgun from the vehicle, searched for Peters’ cellphone and moved the truck. Because of this, blood splatter, footprints, gunshot residue, fingerprints and other evidence was destroyed, Wagner said.
Justice Michael Wheat wrote in his opinion that Wagner only speculated that the evidence would have shown his innocence. Wagner never presented any factual basis that the missing evidence was important to his defense.
In his appeal, Wagner also claimed that the district court improperly limited Wagner’s questioning of a witness during his trial.
During the second jury trial in 2010, the state wanted to prevent the introduction of other crimes committed by witness Tim Polly. Polly was an inmate at the Gallatin County jail with Wagner. He testified that Wagner said he once beat charges against him and that he was going to kill Peters and his ex-girlfriend.
Polly has a lengthy criminal history that includes making false reports to law enforcement. At the time of the trial, he also had a pending domestic violence felony charge.
Wagner argued that the court erred by denying him a chance to challenge Polly’s credibility by asking about his prior and pending criminal charges.
Wheat disagreed, saying the extent of questioning regarding whether a witness has been accused in other crimes is within the district court’s discretion. The district court did give Wagner an opportunity to attack Polly’s credibility, but at the same time made sure cross-examination didn’t turn into an unnecessary inquiry into Polly’s history.