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State v. Ostrander

Supreme Court of Montana

February 19, 2019

STATE OF MONTANA, Plaintiff and Appellee,
DONALD RYAN OSTRANDER, Defendant and Appellant.

          Submitted on Briefs: January 16, 2019

          APPEAL FROM: District Court of the Eighteenth Judicial District, In and For the County of Gallatin, Cause No. DC 16-54B Honorable Mike Salvagni, Presiding Judge.

          For Appellant: Chad Wright, Appellate Defender, Kristen L. Peterson, Assistant Appellate Defender, Helena, Montana

          For Appellee: Timothy C. Fox, Montana Attorney General, Tammy A. Hinderman, Assistant Attorney General, Helena, Montana

          Marty Lambert, Gallatin County Attorney, Bozeman, Montana



         ¶1 Pursuant to Section I, Paragraph 3(c), Montana Supreme Court Internal Operating Rules, this case is decided by memorandum opinion and shall not be cited and does not serve as precedent. Its case title, cause number, and disposition shall be included in this Court's quarterly list of noncitable cases published in the Pacific Reporter and Montana Reports.

         ¶2 Defendant Donald Ryan Ostrander appeals from the judgment and sentence of the Eighteenth Judicial District Court, Gallatin County, finding him guilty of Assault with a Weapon, in violation of § 45-5-213, MCA. We affirm.

         ¶3 On March 2, 2016, the State charged Ostrander with two counts of felony Assault with a Weapon: (1) for stabbing Michael Goodman with a knife, and (2) for cutting Valen Murnion with a knife. Ostrander pled not guilty and gave notice of his intent to rely on a defense of justified use of force. Ostrander did not dispute that he used a knife against Murnion and Goodman but argued he reasonably used the knife to defend himself against their ambush.

         ¶4 On October 25-28, 2016, the District Court presided over a four-day jury trial. During the trial, witnesses described the following events: in June 2015, Murnion and two other men got into a physical altercation with Ostrander. The three men came to Ostrander's apartment, following a dispute over money, and one of the men threatened Ostrander. Ostrander testified the man told him, "[y]ou're lucky we're not packing," and "[n]ext time we come back we'll be strapped." Ostrander interpreted this as a statement that they would bring guns to their next encounter. A neighbor called the police. Police interviewed Ostrander and the other men, but none of the parties involved pressed charges. Murnion testified he did not remember the incident. In November 2015, Ostrander was out to dinner at a local restaurant with his girlfriend, Ashley Cornelius. Murnion was seated at a table nearby, and Ostrander testified Murnion began making lewd remarks about Cornelius and boasting to his friends about beating up Ostrander. Surveillance footage from the restaurant's security camera showed Ostrander got up from his table, walked toward Murnion, and punched Murnion in the face. Murnion did not fight back or retaliate. Murnion later reported the incident to police and ultimately pressed charges against Ostrander.[1]

         ¶5 In December 2015, Ostrander and Goodman were living in the same apartment complex in Bozeman. Ostrander and Cornelius lived in an upstairs unit, while Goodman and five others, including Goodman's girlfriend, Summer Walraven, lived downstairs. Ostrander and Goodman did not know each other well but had a few run-ins, mostly over parking spaces. Goodman and Murnion were childhood friends.

         ¶6 On December 18, 2015, the night of the incident, Ostrander testified he came home from work to find the downstairs tenants' cars parked in his spots. Ostrander testified he saw Walraven outside and told her, "You need to stop fucking parking in my spots," and, Walraven testified he angrily said, "Can you just move the fucking truck," before going upstairs. Walraven's mother then knocked on Ostrander's door and confronted him about how he had spoken to Walraven. Ostrander testified Walraven yelled threats that Goodman was going to "kick [Ostrander's] ass." Later, Goodman called Ostrander, and the two argued over the phone. Goodman testified that he called Murnion and said that his neighbor was "being hostile," and that Goodman might "need some backup" in case anything went wrong, so Murnion came to Goodman's apartment.

         ¶7 Shortly thereafter, Goodman knocked on Ostrander's door. Ostrander answered the door with a knife in his hand. The two men agreed the best way to resolve the conflict was a one-on-one fight, but Ostrander told Goodman he was afraid of being jumped by the group of people who had been hanging around the downstairs apartment. Goodman testified he told Ostrander not to worry. Ostrander then gave Cornelius the knife to hold, and both Ostrander and Cornelius went downstairs.

         ¶8 Once downstairs, Ostrander and Goodman squared off to fight. Ostrander testified he thought that roughly ten other people encircled him, and he recognized Murnion leading the pack. Ostrander testified it did not appear that Murnion was armed. Nevertheless, Ostrander grabbed the knife from Cornelius. Ostrander testified he ran at Murnion but stopped short of attacking him. Ostrander testified Murnion then grabbed a glass bottle, swung it at Ostrander, and hit Ostrander twice on the head, eventually breaking the bottle. Ostrander and Murnion then began fighting. Ostrander testified that, several people jumped on him, including Goodman, and wrestled him to the ground. Ostrander testified that, believing he was outnumbered and would be "beat[en] to death [by] . . . everybody," he stabbed ...

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