Sean Wells

THOMPSON FALLS (KPAX) - A former Thompson Falls man who spent more than 15 years in prison before being exonerated has settled a civil case against Sanders County and a former sheriff’s deputy for $5 million.

Richard Raugust was freed in 2015 after years of research by the Montana Innocence Project convinced a Sanders County judge to dismiss the homicide case that sent him to prison.

Raugust had been convicted of setting his friend's trailer on fire in Trout Creek in 1997. However, attorneys proved key testimony from a sheriff's deputy pointing to another, unnamed killer, was never given to the jury.

Attorneys said Raugust was sleeping at a different house the night of the fatal fire, and that another man, Rory Ross who had given Raugust a ride, actually admitted to the killing.

The State of Montana dismissed the charges against Raugust with prejudice in 2016.

Hillary Carls — a Partner with Blackford Carls P.C. and Raugust's attorney — says her law firm has been litigating the civil case against Sanders County for the last three years.

 She said the $5 million settlement is long overdue.

“It really does come down to Richard, Richard has been patient, he’s been persistent, and he’s been dedicated to his innocence, and I’m just so admired by his courage and his ability to stick with the legal process and get to this point,” said Carls.

The Montana Innocence Project began investigating Raugust's claim of innocence in 2009.

According to the Montana Innocence Project website, on Sept. 7, 2016, the prosecution dismissed the charges against Raugust, making him the group's first freed client.