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State v. Crabtree

Supreme Court of Montana

October 8, 2019

STATE OF MONTANA, Plaintiff and Appellee,
BARTLEY JOHN CRABTREE, Defendant and Appellant.

          Submitted on Briefs: August 7, 2019

          APPEAL FROM: District Court of the Eighth Judicial District, In and For the County of Cascade, Cause No. BDC-16-379 Honorable Elizabeth A. Best, Presiding Judge

         For Appellant:

          Chad Wright, Appellate Defender, Gregory Hood, Assistant Appellate Defender, Helena, Montana

         For Appellee:

          Timothy C. Fox, Montana Attorney General, Tammy K Plubell, Helena, Montana

          Joshua A. Racki, Cascade County Attorney, Eric Kitzmiller, Special Deputy County Attorney, Bozeman, Montana


          Laurie McKinnon Justice.

         ¶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 On June 13, 2017, a jury in the Eighth Judicial District Court, Cascade County, found Bart J. Crabtree (Crabtree) guilty of Theft by Embezzlement pursuant to a Common Scheme, a felony, in violation of § 45-6-301(7)(a) and (9), MCA. The District Court sentenced Crabtree to the Department of Corrections for a term of five years with three years suspended. Crabtree alleges the jury was not properly instructed that its decision had to be unanimous; that the District Court erred in limiting Crabtree's cross-examination of a witness; and that he was denied a speedy trial. We affirm.

         ¶3 On or about February 27, 2016, Marlee Sunchild (Sunchild) and Janet Brown (Brown) went to the Great Falls Police Department (GFPD) on a suspicion that Crabtree was embezzling funds from the Electric City Heat Girls Softball Team (ECH) account. Sunchild was the vice president and Brown was the secretary-treasurer of ECH. Sunchild and Brown alleged Crabtree stole $2, 560.38 from the organization's account by writing checks to himself as its president. Sunchild and Brown went to Prairie Mountain Bank and discovered that Crabtree had written $5, 300.00 worth of ECH checks to himself. Crabtree wrote a total of twelve ECH checks to himself between April 17, 2015, and November 13, 2015.

         ¶4 On July 20, 2016, the State charged Crabtree with a single count of theft by common scheme. The case took approximately 328 days to reach trial. The State requested a continuance due to Crabtree seeking additional discovery approximately three weeks prior to trial. Additionally, two continuances for the State were granted to address a conflict in the Cascade County Attorney's Office, as one of its attorneys became a material witness to the case. The jury trial was held June 12 and 13, 2017. The State presented several witnesses including investigating officer Detective Burrows, and Sunchild. The focus of the State's inquiry was largely the twelve checks written by Crabtree to himself, his various explanations for needing to be reimbursed, and whether Crabtree's practice of reimbursing himself was authorized by the ECH Board of Directors (Board). The checks were admitted as one exhibit (State's Exhibit 1), without objection from Crabtree. The aggregate amount of the checks was $5, 300.00.

         ¶5 Sunchild testified that the Board never discussed or approved Crabtree's use of ECH checks to reimburse himself. During Sunchild's cross-examination, Crabtree, representing himself, asked Sunchild about a letter he sent her dated February 12, 2016. In the letter, Sunchild was dismissed as ECH's vice president and provided with the reasons for her dismissal. The letter was issued around the same time Sunchild and Brown were making inquiries to Crabtree about ECH's finances. The letter accused Sunchild of using her position as ECH vice president solely to the benefit of her daughter's softball team. The letter also alleged Sunchild made several purchases on the organization's account for her daughter's team, including a $500 "lunch charge" and $925 for "State championship coats." Crabtree sought to demonstrate that Sunchild made her allegations against Crabtree in order to divert attention away from alleged unauthorized expenditures made by Sunchild. Crabtree never sought to have the dismissal letter admitted.

         ¶6 Crabtree did ask when Sunchild received the dismissal letter. Sunchild answered February 12, 2016. Crabtree then asked "Okay. And in that letter what were the reasons? What was the cause of your dismissal?" Sunchild replied "I don't recall." At this point, the District Court stopped Crabtree from pursuing his line of questioning any further, explaining "we are not trying Ms. Sunchild." Crabtree then stated: "Correct. But I guess what I was getting at is the reasons that I dismissed her is why she came after me for all these false allegations . . . ." Although Crabtree attempted repeatedly to question ...

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