KALISPELL – Attorneys for a Kalispell man convicted of killing his wife in 2020 are requesting a new trial on the grounds that prosecutors made improper comments during closing arguments, and that evidence suggests a lesser charge should have been pursued.
Bradley Jay Hillious, 35, was found guilty of deliberate homicide during a January trial in Flathead County District Court in front of Judge Robert Allison. A jury deliberated for about six hours following two weeks of testimony and evidence.
According to charging documents, Hillious beat and strangled his wife, Amanda, before throwing her down a flight of stairs during a fight inside their home on Dec. 15, 2020. Amanda Hillious, a mother of four, died four days later. On Dec. 22, a Montana State Crime Lab pathologist determined Amanda died of blunt force injuries associated with neck compression.
Hillious’ attorneys on Feb. 14 filed for a new trial on the basis that prosecuting attorneys made “inflammatory, improper, personal references” during the trial, including calling Hillious a “liar.”
“The improper personal references were used throughout the trial and closing arguments,” their court filing argues.
“Counsel had objected in closing arguments, however, the court indicated that it was ‘closing’ arguments, and no objections were to be made.”
They suggest that the Montana Supreme Court has concluded in previous cases that a prosecutors’ “misconduct” is grounds for reversing a conviction and granting a new trial.
Hillious’ attorneys also argue in the filing that prosecutors failed to present evidence that backs up the deliberate homicide charge.
“This was not a case of an intentional act, and the state’s evidence on who committed this death was ‘not beyond reasonable doubt,’” their filing states.
Instead, they say evidence points to mitigated deliberate homicide or a lesser offense.
According to Montana Code Annotated, mitigated deliberate homicide is defined as “when the person purposely or knowingly causes the death of another human being but does so under the influence of extreme mental or emotional stress for which there is reasonable explanation or excuse.”
“The evidence of mitigation was all over this case,” Hillious’ attorneys claim in the filing, without pointing to specifics.
They further suggest the local jury pool was tainted by previous knowledge of the case and that the trial should have been held outside of the area.
In repsonse to the filing, attorneys for the state counter that none of the defense’s arguments for a new trial hold water.
They say the defense failed to object to statements during closing arguments and add that “claims of prosecutorial misconduct pertaining to a prosecutor’s statements not objected to at trial are typically not reviewed.”
Their filing adds that the prosecution’s statements made in closing arguments “were squarely within the context of the evidence.”
“At no point did a prosecutor vouch for or offer a personal opinion.”
Prosecutors also brushed aside the suggestion of a lesser charge.
“The absurdity of the defense’s motion that the facts of the case did not support the conviction is made clear by the verdict: a jury of 12 reached the unanimous conclusion that the state had proven beyond a reasonable doubt that Brad Hillious committed deliberate homicide. Such is the end of that claim.”
Further, prosecutors counter in the filing that “The defendant spent two weeks telling a jury that Amanda Hillious was killed by a set of stairs, or possibly by her ‘explosive’ father-in-law. Is the defendant now asserting that he did kill Amanda, but did so under the influence of extreme mental or emotional stress? The lack of both facts and logic in the defense’s claims warrant the court’s denial of the defendant’s motion.”
A hearing on the request for a new trial is slated for 1:30 p.m. on March 7 at Hillious’ sentencing is scheduled a day later.
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