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Man wrongfully convicted in Great Falls 2001 murder settles lawsuit

City, county, state paying $600,000
Montana State Prison
Posted at 3:22 PM, Jun 14, 2021
and last updated 2021-06-14 17:22:03-04

HELENA — Richard Burkhart, wrongfully convicted of a 2001 murder in Great Falls, has settled his lawsuit against the city, Cascade County and state for $600,000, his attorney told MTN News Monday.

The settlement of Burkhart’s civil lawsuit in U.S. District Court was made final May 26.

Robert Farris-Olsen, Burkhart’s attorney, said the city of Great Falls agreed to pay $400,000 and Cascade County and the state covered the remainder of the settlement.

Burkhart, who lives now in Galveston, Texas, had been convicted for the 2001 beating death of William Ledeau, whose body was found in a downtown alley.

A friend of Burkhart’s, pressured by police, had testified against him – but years later recanted his testimony, saying neither of them had anything to do with Ledeau’s murder.

Prosecutors agreed to drop the charges in 2017 and Burkhart was released from prison in 2018. He had to serve out the remainder of a 10-year term for his involvement in a riot at Montana State Prison.

Farris-Olsen said the suit faulted Great Falls city police, because they should have known the friend’s confession was false, and accused the county prosecutors of failing to divulge evidence they obtained right after the conviction that pointed to the real killer.

Within a month of Burkhart’s conviction, an inmate in the Cascade County jail told a police detective that the real killer had confessed to him, the suit said. That detective’s report was delivered to the prosecutor’s office, but the office did not give it to the defense or divulge it, Farris-Olsen said.