Richard Raugust

Richard Raugust has filed a claim against the state of Montana for $97 million for the 18 years he spent wrongly imprisoned in Montana.

The state of Montana has denied a $97 million claim from a Sanders County man who spent nearly two decades in prison for a murder he didn’t commit before being exonerated in 2016.

In May, Richard Raugust sent the state's Risk Management and Tort Division a demand letter asking for financial compensation for the years of freedom he lost, a flawed investigation and legal process, and medical costs related to claimed mistreatment during his time incarcerated.

Three years ago, Raugust became one of the first exonerees for the Montana Innocence Project, a group that works with people who are wrongly imprisoned to reverse their convictions. Investigators with the project worked for a decade before getting a Sanders County judge to dismiss deliberate homicide charges against Raugust in 2015. A judge there found serious problems with evidence suppression at Raugust's original 1998 trial for the murder of his best friend, Joe Tash.

Raugust was then released from prison and the state dropped all the charges against him in 2016.

The state said Monday the demand letter was technically denied due to the timeline for review expiring. It had 120 days to review the letter once it was filed. A spokesperson said the state was unable to comment about specific merits of the demand letter because of possible ongoing litigation.

The state is staying coordinated with Sanders County in investigating the claims Raugust made, because Sanders County is also named in the letter. Commissioners in Sanders County were not available Friday or Monday to discuss the claim. It's also unclear if Sanders County could settle a claim with Raugust after the state denied it.

Last week, Raugust said he's given notice to Sanders County that he plans to sue them, as well as the state and a total of 22 entities, many that were included in his demand letter.

To read the full article read Wednesday's Post Register or go to The Missoulian.