Jury selection underway in Absarokee negligent homicide case

By 
Marlo Pronovost
Tuesday, January 21, 2020
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Jury selection is underway in the trial of a former Absarokee man charged with the negligent homicide a 27-year-old man in 2013.

Michael Thomas Holtz has denied charges of negligent homicide, tampering with evidence and failure to remain at the scene of an accident involving another person in the death of Forest Dana. 

Dana was found deceased in an alley by family members in the early morning hours of July 28. 2013. A medical examiner determined that Dana was killed when his spinal cord was severed as the result of being run over by a vehicle, according to court documents. Court documents also allege that there was also medical evidence that someone may have tried to perform CPR on him.

The trial is being held in Glendive as a result of the defense arguing that Holtz could not get a fair trial in Stillwater County due to the coverage of the case. 

Seventh District Court Judge Olivia Rieger is presiding over the case and it is being prosecuted by Montana Assistant Attorney General Chad Parker.

Charges were initially filed by Stillwater County Attorney Nancy Rohde in 2014. In 2016, those charges were dismissed without prejudice when Rohde determined that she did not have witnesses that could positively identify Holtz at trial.

The AG’s office disagreed and refiled the case, adding a third charge. Rohde is not part of the prosecution team.

THE CASE

Several witnesses placed a car matching Holtz’s car near the scene at the time. The discovery of Dana’s DNA on Holtz’s car tied him to the crime, according to court documents and previous court testimony.

Investigators contend Holtz attempted to conceal his involvement in the death by crashing his vehicle into a tree, causing additional damage. Despite efforts to keep the DNA evidence from being admissible at trial, then-District Court Judge Blair Jones ruled it could be used. 

In new charging document filed by Parker, the issue of identifying Holtz is prominent. 

Multiple witnesses told investigators the identical Holtz twins could be distinguished by their facial hair — specifically, that Michael Holtz was normally clean-shaven, as opposed to his twin brother, according to the new court documents.

Several witnesses also describe seeing a small blue car speeding in the area. At least two people positively identified Holtz as being in his car speeding near the alley.

At least one person told investigators that he saw a vehicle being driving approximately 80 mph by the Holtz twin “without facial hair,” according to the new documents filed by Parker.  

One person told investigators she was with Holtz’s twin around midnight, and that he was not with them. At that same time, Holtz was reportedly seen standing off the roadway in the trees and had a conversation with a man who knew him, according to court documents.

Holtz later told investigators that he didn’t believe anyone else had driven his car that night, according to court documents. His car was later seized and the following was found, according to new court documents:

“Bruises or markings observed on Forest’s head were similar in design to the grill of the Mazda. The front grill of the Mazda was also broken out on the passenger side. The undercarriage of the Mazda, including the bottom of the oil pan, the bottom of the cross member between the Catalytic converter and the oil pan, the tread of the passenger-side front tire, the passenger-side front CV joint, and the front passenger-side A-frame was swabbed for DNA and trace evidence of what appeared to be hairs and fibers. The bumper cover, grill, and the car’s passenger-side mud flaps were collected as evidence.

On June 24,2014, Agent Knutson received a report from Montana Department of Justice Forensic Scientist Jennifer Revis-Siegfried, which concluded that the DNA found on the bottom area of the passenger side front mud flap and the passenger-side A-frame matched Forest Dana.”

The case was jointly investigated by the Stillwater County Sheriff’s Office and the state’s Criminal Investigations Bureau (CIB). The AG’s office also assisted in the first prosecution. Now-retired Stillwater County Sheriff’s Office Chief Investigator Woody Claunch and state DCI Agent Len Knutson have worked the case virtually non-stop since 2013.