A man sentenced for a misdemeanor after a jury convicted him of sexually assaulting a 7-year-old girl who was visiting him in a homeless shelter is coming back to Havre to face a different sentence.
Edward Harold Ghostbear, born in 1977, was sentenced on a misdemeanor charge in January after Judge Dan Boucher agreed that the prosecution failed to properly present the charges to the jury.
The Montana Supreme Court Tuesday issued a decision that the court erred in ruling the factors were not established to convict Ghostbear on a felony charge, and remanded the case back to District Court.
Ghostbear, as of Monday, was an inmate at the Crossroads Correctional Facility in Shelby awaiting the Supreme Court decision.
The jury convicted Ghostbear of assaulting the girl, who was visiting him in a homeless shelter in the basement of the former Salvation Army chapel in Havre. Ghostbear had been kicked out of the house of the victim’s mother, Ghostbear’s girlfriend, by the court when he previously was charged with a felony count of assaulting the girl’s mother.
Boucher ruled that the prosecution had failed to present to the jury in its jury instructions and have it vote on the fact that Ghostbear, 34 at the time, was at least three years older than the victim when she was 16 or younger.
The state appealed that decision.
In the Supreme Court decision, Chief Justice Mike McGrath wrote that because evidence presented included an interview of Ghostbear in which he said he was born in 1977 and the girl was just about to turn 8 at the date of the incident meant the jury had no reasonable doubt that the victim was younger than 16 and Ghostbear was at least three years older.
As the court also read a jury instruction stating that if the victim is 14 or younger and the defendant three years or more older that the victim cannot consent to having sex, in returning a guilty verdict the jury “necessarily found the facts as the respective ages of Ghostbear and the victim,” the opinion reads.
Under the sentencing guidelines the Supreme Court rule District Court must follow, Ghostbear faces “a term of not less than four years and up to life in the state prison,” rather than the maximum six-month guideline for a first-offense misdemeanor sentence.