Ben Savage

Ben Savage

CHALLIS — Custer County Magistrate Judge James H. Barrett Jr. on Monday denied motions to appoint a second attorney to assist Public Defender Dave Cannon and to disqualify Prosecuting Attorney Justin Oleson from the ongoing murder case against Ben Savage.

Savage is accused of killing Charlie McBride on Feb. 25. McBride’s body was found March 24 and Savage was arrested March 30.

Cannon argued that although he’s practiced law for 20 years in Idaho, he’s never represented a client in a murder case and would like the assistance of Public Defender Jim Archibald. Archibald has represented people accused of murder and had agreed to help Cannon, if the court approved the request.

The state has identified 29 potential witnesses, Cannon pointed out, and there is a high volume of evidence and other information to organize, review and analyze so he needs help. If the state later determines there are circumstances that warrant the death penalty, Cannon is not certified to defend a capital case and would need assistance from a certified attorney.

Oleson argued Cannon is experienced in criminal cases and that Savage’s first-degree murder case “is no more complicated than many other criminal matters” with which Cannon has experience. Cannon’s public defender contract with Custer County does not prevent him from hiring another attorney to assist him, Oleson wrote.

Judge Barrett denied Savage’s motion to have a second attorney appointed at the county’s expense.

In his motion to disqualify Oleson from prosecuting Savage, Cannon pointed out that Oleson was Savage’s attorney in at least 10 cases in Custer and Lemhi counties between 2004 and 2017.

The defense didn’t prove that the murder case against Savage is “substantially related” to earlier cases, Oleson noted in his objection to Cannon’s motion. Oleson acknowledged he had represented Savage in several cases before his appointment as prosecuting attorney, but “I am unaware of receiving any confidential information during my prior representation that would be material to this matter.” According to Oleson, the last time he represented Savage, he told Savage he was soon to be appointed Custer County prosecuting attorney and would no longer be able to represent him in any Custer County case.

According to Oleson, Savage went to the Custer County prosecutor’s office on March 11 to ask Oleson about polygraph examinations. Oleson’s assistant, Chris Matson, wrote in her affidavit that Savage “asked how a polygraph works and should he take one regarding Charlie McBride. Mr. Oleson again told Mr. Savage that he could not advise him because he was Custer County prosecutor and not his defense attorney.”

Barrett disagreed that Oleson had a conflict of interest in this case and denied the motion to prevent Oleson from prosecuting Savage.

Savage, 36, is scheduled for a preliminary hearing on Monday, June 10, when Barrett will hear the evidence against him and determine if there’s probable cause to believe he murdered McBride and bind him over to District Court for trial. Savage has not yet entered a plea but will do so if he is arraigned in District Court. Savage has the right to waive his preliminary hearing and proceed directly to arraignment.

Savage remains in custody at the Custer County Jail in lieu of posting a $1 million bond.

McBride, 23, was reported missing on March 9 after having last been seen Feb. 25, which is the day officials say he was killed. McBride’s burned body was found buried on private property up Morgan Creek where he had been working with Savage on Feb. 25. When the matter was still considered a missing person case, Savage told investigators he had dropped McBride off in Challis that day to get a pair of work boots.

On March 22 Savage called Custer County Sheriff Stu Lumpkin and told the sheriff he was working inside a shop up Morgan Creek on Feb. 25 when he heard a bang and went outside. Savage claims he saw McBride, dead, apparently of a gunshot wound, and that a woman was standing near the body. Savage described where he had helped the woman bury McBride’s body. Investigators found McBride’s burned and buried body on March 24 where Savage said it was.

Investigators say they have evidence which shows Savage was alone with McBride the day McBride was killed. Savage was arrested at Idaho Falls Regional Airport on March 30, apparently after returning from Pennsylvania.