AG refiles 2013 negligent homicide charge against former Absarokee man

Local prosecutor not involved in case this time around
By: 
Marlo Pronovost
Friday, August 10, 2018

Yellowstone County Detention Facility photo

Michael Holtz when he was first charged in the case in 2014.

 

More than two years after dismissing a negligent homicide charge against a former Absarokee man when prosecutors decided they could not positively identify the suspect at trial, new life has been breathed into the case.

The Montana Attorney General’s Office has refiled charges against Michael Holtz for the 2013 death of Forest Dana in an Absarokee alley.

Montana Assistant Attorney General Chad Parker filed new documents in the case late last month, charging Holtz with negligent homicide, tampering with evidence and failure to remain at the scene of an accident involving another person. 

Holtz was previously charged with the first two offenses in 2014 in connection with the death of Dana on July 28, 2013. 

Four years ago — almost to the day — the charges were dismissed without prejudice, meaning prosecutors could refile.

Assistant Attorney General Chad Parker added a third felony charge this time around — failure to remain at the scene of an accident involving another person. 

Parker is prosecuting the case without Stillwater County Attorney Nancy Rohde, who told the News that the AG’s office had contacted her about the case and that she had “given her blessing” for them to proceed without her.

 

THE CASE

Dana, who was 27 at the time of his death, was found by family members in the alley directly behind the family home 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. 

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 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, District Court Judge Blair Jones ruled it could be used. 

 

NEW CHARGING DOCUMENTS

In the 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 investigator’s 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. Stillwater County Sheriff’s Office Chief Investigator Woody Claunch and now retired DCI Agent Len Knutson have worked the case virtually non-stop since 2013.

 

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