Missoula's hillside peace sign is visible through the windows of Courtroom 1, where Judge Karen Townsend was hearing cases on Tuesday morning. It's a reminder of another iconic Missoula structure appearing in a legal context: University Hall on the cover of Jon Krakauer's 2015 book, Missoula: Rape and the Justice System in a College Town. This morning, at least three of the featured citizens in that book are back in the courtroom.
Former Griz player Beau Donaldson was originally sentenced on rape charges by Townsend, in January 2013, to 30 years in state prison with 20 years suspended. That was just a couple of months before County Attorney Kirsten Pabst, then in private practice as a defense attorney, helped Donaldson's former teammate, Griz quarterback Jordan Johnson, get a not-guilty verdict in his own rape trial. These events were central to Krakauer's narrative about the prosecution of sexual assault in Missoula.
Donaldson was paroled in the summer of 2016 after being denied the first time he applied, in 2015. In July he was arrested in Bozeman for violating the alcohol-related prohibitions of his parole.
"If I find you have violated [parole], your current suspended sentence could be revoked and you could face all 20 years," Townsend said to Donaldson, who answered that he understood. Townsend then offered him the option of appearing via teleconference for his future court appearances, since he currently lives in Bozeman. Donaldson will remain free while he awaits further hearings, provided that he complies with the conditions of his parole.
Donaldson's attorney, Peter Lacny, said he'd be filing a motion to dismiss. Lacny and Pabst agreed to potential hearing dates in November. Then Pabst said she'd been having trouble getting the Department of Corrections to release Donaldson's file to her and asked Townsend to issue a court order directing it to do so, saying that she had "never had this kind of resistance."
Difficulty obtaining documents related to these cases isn't a new roadblock. Krakauer took his quest for university records relating to Johnson's disciplinary hearings to the Montana Supreme Court. Currently, his case is in the hands of the Helena courts, which must determine the relevance and privacy concerns of each document individually. Meanwhile, the lead defense attorney from the Johnson case, David Paoli, filed a motion in Lewis and Clark County last month seeking to compel Krakauer to turn over any records he has relating to Johnson.
If Pabst sends Donaldson back to state prison, it will make for an interesting epilogue to the events of Missoula, the book, and events in Missoula, the town. Pabst was savaged by Krakauer and attempted to halt the publication of Missoula when she was back in office in 2015. Now Pabst is positioned to enforce one of the rare convictions that the county obtained against the Griz defendants.
Before court went into session for the day, Judge Townsend and the court's all-female staff were talking about college football.
This article was updated on Oct. 19, 2017, to correct a misstatement of fact regarding Kirsten Pabst's resignation from the county attorney's office, and to clarify that county convictions against accused University of Montana football players — not county convictions rates in general — were rare.