From District Court of the Second Judicial District, In and
For the County of Silver Bow, Cause No. DC 13-119 Honorable
Kurt Krueger, Presiding Judge
Appellant Chad Wright, Chief Appellate Defender, Kristen L.
Peterson, Assistant Appellate Defender (argued), Helena,
Appellee Timothy C. Fox, Montana Attorney General, Micheal S.
Wellenstein, Assistant Attorney General (argued), Helena,
Montana, Eileen Joyce, Silver Bow County Attorney, Samm Cox,
Michael Clague, Deputy County Attorneys, Butte, Montana
Matthew John Blaz (Blaz) appeals the judgment entered by the
Second Judicial District Court, Silver Bow County, convicting
him of Deliberate Homicide. We address the following issues:
1.Did the District Court abuse its discretion by
admitting evidence about the prior PFMA conviction under M.
R. Evid 404(b)?
2.Did the District Court err by issuing a nonconforming
written judgment that omitted credit for 318 days of time
We affirm in part, reverse in part, and remand for entry of
an amended judgment.
AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND
On August 16, 2013, Blaz's infant daughter, Matti, died
after being in Blaz's care for the day. Matti was born in
June 2013, via cesarean section, and was approximately 53
days old at the time of her death. Dr. Walter Kemp, Deputy
State Medical Examiner, determined Matti's cause of death
to be craniocerebral and cervical trauma. Matti's autopsy
revealed: (1) blunt force trauma to her head and neck,
primarily on the left side;(2) abrasions on the left side of
her chin and on the right side of the base of her neck near
her chest; and (3) evidence of an older injury on one of her
ribs. At trial, Dr. Kemp testified
likely died as the result of "a very strong, forceful
slam against some broad object." Under questioning of
the prosecutor, Kemp testified as follows:
Q. And how about as to the manner of [Matti's] death? Do
you have an opinion?
Q. And what is the manner of the death?
Q. And what do you base that on?
A. I believe that the cause of [Matti's] death was an
intentional and harmful act caused by another person that
resulted in her death.
Continuing, Kemp opined that a fall or a drop could not have
caused the injuries he found at autopsy. He stated:
Q. So just so we're clear, based upon the fracture to her
skull, the tear to her brain, extensive damage to her eyes,
and the tears in her neck, you believe the manner of death in
this case is homicide[?]
Q. And there's no way that this could have come from a
A. I do not believe this came from a simple fall, no.
On July 10, 2013, Blaz, Matti, and Jennifer, Matti's
mother, were involved in an altercation in their home. At the
time, Matti was about 16 days old, and Jennifer was
recovering from her cesarean section and a subsequent
infection of the surgical site. Having returned home from
playing softball, Blaz was intoxicated and, while holding
Matti, began "dozing off." Jennifer took Matti from
him, stating she was going to change and feed Matti. While
Jennifer was in the kitchen preparing Matti's bottle and
holding her, Blaz came up behind them, grabbed Jennifer by
the hair, and threw her, while she was still holding Matti,
to the floor. He then started banging Jennifer's head
against the floor. By the time Jennifer was able to regain
her feet, Blaz had taken Matti. During the assault, 3
Matti's older sister, K.Y.,  and K.Y.'s friend
retreated to the basement of the house. When K.Y. heard a
slam to the floor, she and her friend started yelling,
"stop it, " to which Blaz retorted, "tell them
to shut up or I'm coming down there." K.Y. and her
friend hid under a bed. Out of this incident, Blaz was
charged with and pled guilty to Partner or Family Member
Assault (PFMA). He received a six month suspended sentence
and was ordered to have no contact with Jennifer.
Blaz returned to live in the home despite the No Contact
Order. On the morning of August 16, 2013, Blaz stayed home
from work with Matti and K.Y. Accompanied by Matti and K.Y.,
Blaz took Jennifer to work between 8:00 and 8:30 a.m. At that
point, Matti appeared to be fine and was acting normally.
After returning home, Blaz watched television with Matti,
while K.Y. played in the basement with a neighbor girl. At
approximately 10:00 a.m., Blaz stepped out of the residence
to quiet the dog and talk to the mailman. Matti was lying on
a blanket on the floor in front of the television, and Blaz
indicated that he could see her from his vantage point
outside the house. While Blaz and the mailman were talking, a
neighbor boy, brother of the girl playing inside with K.Y.,
entered the house to see what the girls were doing. Testimony
about what occurred after this point diverged.
According to Blaz, he looked in the house and saw the
neighbor boy holding Matti. He then heard a loud scream,
entered the house, and saw Matti screaming on the blanket,
while the neighbor boy hovered over her. Blaz asked what
happened and the boy ran downstairs. Blaz picked up Matti and
tried to calm her. He yelled downstairs and asked the kids
what happened, to which the girls replied that they had not
done anything. The boy was in the house for a short time,
then he left.
According to the neighbor boy, he heard Matti crying inside
when he arrived at the house. He testified that he had
tickled Matti, but did not pick her up. He confirmed that,
when he was downstairs, Blaz had asked the children if any of
them had touched or picked up Matti. The neighbor boy
testified that he went downstairs to see what the girls were
doing, got bored, and left shortly thereafter.
At approximately 11:00 a.m., Blaz called Jennifer at work to
discuss lunch plans. During the conversation, Blaz did not
mention that anything had happened to Matti during the
morning or any concerns about Matti's wellbeing. Around
noon, Blaz took a lunch to Jennifer, leaving Matti with K.Y.
and the neighbor girl. When Blaz left, Matti was sleeping,
and she slept for most of the afternoon. At approximately
4:00 p.m., Blaz took Matti and K.Y. to pick Jennifer up from
work, after which the group drove to Walmart. On the way,
Blaz mentioned to Jennifer that the neighbor boy might have
dropped Matti. Jennifer said she would check Matti when they
arrived at Walmart and, at that time, she observed
Matti's skin was ashen, her breathing was unusual, and
she had bulging eyes. Acting urgently, Jennifer directed they
take Matti to the hospital, where she died. ¶9 At trial,
Blaz asserted Matti's death was the result of being
dropped by the neighbor boy. The State sought admission of
evidence related to the July PFMA charge against Blaz
pursuant to M. R. Evid. 404(b). The State argued the PFMA was
relevant and rebutted Blaz's defense because it
demonstrated motive, opportunity, and the absence of accident
or mistake. The District Court admitted the PFMA over
Blaz's objection. Blaz appeals.
District courts have broad discretion to determine the
admissibility of evidence. State v. Daffin, 2017 MT
76, ¶ 12, 387 Mont. 154, 392 P.3d 150 (citing State
v. Madplume, 2017 MT 40, ¶ 19, 386 Mont. 368, 390
P.3d 142). We review evidentiary rulings for an abuse of
discretion, which occurs when a district court acts
arbitrarily without conscientious judgment or exceeds the
bounds of reason, resulting in substantial injustice.
Daffin, ¶ 12 (citing Madplume, ¶
19). To the extent an evidentiary ruling is based on ...