The sentencing of a man convicted of sexually assaulting a 7-year-old girl while she was in his care in the basement of a church is likely to be postponed to give the Montana Supreme Court time to hear arguments about whether he should be sentenced as a felon or for a misdemeanor offense.
The state Attorney General’s Office, which appealed the ruling of Judge Dan Boucher, has requested a stay on the sentencing hearing, scheduled for 4 p. m. Monday. Boucher, who was holding court in another county in his judicial district today, had not ruled on the motion as of this morning.
Meanwhile, Edward Harold Ghostbear, born in 1977, is likely to be turned over to the state Department of Corrections to start serving his five-year sentence for felony partner or family member abuse if the stay is granted, the attorney who prosecuted the case said.
Karla Mae Bosse, now Broadwater County Attorney, added that she is reluctant to discuss issues about the appeal while arguments before the Supreme Court are pending.
A jury, after a five-day trial in October, convicted Ghostbear of sexually assaulting the girl who was visiting him Jan. 8, 2012, while he stayed in the homeless shelter of the Branded By Fire Ministries church on 6th Avenue and 2nd Street.
The prosecution argued that evidence showed Ghostbear had assaulted the victim much longer than that, probably starting shortly after he moved to Havre from South Dakota between January and March of 2011 to be with the child and her mother.
The prosecution asked for a sentencing enhancement — life in prison or four to 100 years instead of the initial six-month maximum for misdemeanor sexual assault — because the victim was younger than 16 and Ghostbear was more than three years older than she was.
But, Boucher ruled, the charges filed against Ghostbear were not clearly written, and the prosecution failed to prove those facts during the trial.
The state also requires that a jury find, on a separate form, that the facts required by a sentence enhancement were proven.
Boucher ruled that, because the prosecution accepted a sentencing form offered by the counsel for the defense that did not include a separate form to find whether the facts of the enhancement were proven, Ghostbear must be sentenced using the lesser sentencing penalties.
Ghostbear previously pleaded guilty in a plea agreement to a felony charge of assaulting a woman — the mother of the child he molested — and Boucher sentenced him last spring in that case to five years with the state Department of Corrections with two years suspended.