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The trial of a man who allegedly assaulted a woman he met in Bozeman while on vacation in 2020 is underway in Gallatin County District Court.

Joseph Sterling Mueller of California is charged with felony sexual assault. Jury selection and opening arguments for his trial in Judge John Brown’s courtroom were Tuesday, and witnesses testified and were cross-examined in court  Wednesday.

According to court documents, Mueller met a group of people at a downtown bar in Bozeman in June 2020. A woman in the group offered him a ride home and he allegedly forced her to kiss him as she was giving him a ride home. The woman said she tried to pull away, but that he grabbed her by the neck with both hands, groped her, and told her, “You’re going to do what the (expletive) I tell you to do.”

The woman told law enforcement that she had been driving Mueller around for up to half an hour because he couldn’t remember where he lived or where his vehicle was parked. She stopped the vehicle and told him to get out, which is when she said he assaulted her.

Court documents say the woman grabbed her gun inside her vehicle and pointed it at Mueller’s legs before he got out of her vehicle and she drove away. She told law enforcement that she thought he was trying to kill or rape her.

On June 11, 2020, after the woman reported being assaulted, the Bozeman Police Department requested the public’s help in identifying Mueller, who at the time the department only knew as Joe or Joey. The owner of a hotel in Bozeman saw the news release from BPD and reported that Mueller had stayed at the hotel on the night of the alleged assault, but had checked out early that morning and hadn’t been seen since.

Later in June 2020, Mueller was arrested in southwest Michigan on a felony warrant for sexual assault. He was extradited to Montana and appeared by video in Gallatin County Justice Court, where his bail was set at $250,000.

He pleaded not guilty to the charges at an initial appearance in district court on August 26, 2020.

The following month, Mueller’s bail was modified to $100,000 with extra conditions, including that he needed a signed waiver of extradition to return to California, which he did.

Mueller’s defense attorney is Scott Stinson of Stinson Law Group. The case is being prosecuted by Deputy Gallatin County attorney Bjorn Boyer. Stinson did not return a request for comment on the case by deadline on Wednesday afternoon. Boyer declined to comment. 

The 12-person jury, plus an alternate, heard testimony from several witnesses Wednesday, including a Bozeman Police Department detective who had investigated the alleged crime and a friend of the woman who was at the bar with her the night of the alleged assault.

The trial is scheduled to finish on or before Friday, Dec. 3.

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Melissa Loveridge can be reached at mloveridge@dailychronicle.com or at (406) 582-2651. 

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