Effort underway to support domestic violence victim charged with homicide

·8 min read

Apr. 28—The Abbie Shelter in Kalispell has launched a no-holds-barred activism effort to have the state dismiss, with prejudice, a deliberate homicide charge that was brought last October against Rachel Bellesen, a domestic violence advocate who shot her ex-husband after he allegedly attempted to rape her near a fishing hole in Paradise.

The nonprofit's executive director, Hilary Shaw, released a call to action last Friday, requesting that the public contact the Office of Attorney General by May 10 to ask that Bellesen's case be dismissed, with prejudice. Such a motion would not only bar the case from being refiled in the future, but also would remove the deliberate homicide charge from Bellesen's permanent record.

"We are deeply grieved that our community member, friend, and colleague, Rachel Bellesen, is being unjustly prosecuted for deliberate homicide in Sanders County for killing her abusive ex-husband in a justifiable exercise of her right to self-defense from his attempted rape on Oct. 8, 2020," Shaw alleged in her call to action. "This is a terrible injustice occurring in the State of Montana, sending a hopeless message to all victims of domestic violence that their voices will be unheard or their safety unprioritized in our legal system."

The case goes back to Oct. 8, 2020, when Bellesen, an Abbie Shelter employee, traveled from Flathead County to Paradise to speak with her ex-husband, Jacob "Jake" Glace. Lance Jasper, Bellesen's pro-bono attorney, told the Daily Inter Lake that her motive for meeting with Glace was to speak with him regarding threats he had made to one of their sons.

When the two met, Bellesen alleged Glace tried to sexually assault her. That attempt prompted her to fatally shoot him in what she described was an act of self-defense against Glace, whose criminal record shows he had been involved in multiple domestic violence incidents dating back to 2004, and as recently as 2020.

Court documents show Bellesen called 911 shortly after the incident and told dispatch she needed the police, and that she had killed somebody. Bellesen was arrested and booked shortly afterward and then charged with deliberate homicide the following day by Sanders County Attorney Naomi Leisz, though she was released on bail with a $20,000 bond three weeks later.

The entire incident, including details on how the investigation was handled and the charges that followed, sparked immediate outrage among domestic violence leaders and those close to Bellesen, who say it's obvious she was exercising her right to self-defense.

"The charging documents themselves support that, on the day of the tragedy, Mr. Glace physically and sexually assaulted Rachel. Her shirt, bra, and pants were ripped, and Mr. Glace's scratch marks were on Rachel's chest," Shaw wrote in her call to action. "Had the assault continued, Rachel would have suffered (at a minimum) a completed rape by Mr. Glace."

FAST FORWARD six months. Shaw's call to action, which was being posted to the Abbie Shelter's Facebook page Wednesday evening, was prompted by a recent decision by state prosecutors to file a motion to dismiss the case, but without prejudice. The motion came just three days after Bellesen's legal team wrote to the state, requesting the exact opposite.

In an April 6 letter to prosecutors, Jasper offered them the opportunity to review every detail of Bellesen's case and, for the first time since she was charged, speak with her directly on all matters involving the shooting and ask any follow-up questions they would like.

In exchange for handing over the details of their entire defense, Jasper asked that the case be dismissed without prejudice, but with an automatic conversion to "with prejudice" after one year. He also requested the state assist Bellesen in expunging her criminal history, among other measures, and said he would agree not to file nine separate motions he had planned on filing.

But on April 9, prosecutors filed a motion to dismiss the case, but without prejudice — a decision Jasper equated to a "guillotine over Rachel's head" in an interview on Monday. The motion essentially means the disputed deliberate homicide charge, which Jasper and others strongly believe should never have been brought in the first place, will remain on Bellesen's permanent record and that the case can be refiled in the future.

The state pointed to pending forensic tests as one of the primary reasons for their decision.

"The state seeks additional time to review those results and review the case in light of those results along with the burden of disproving at trial that the Defendant's actions were not justified," the motion states. "The State believes it is in the interest of justice to dismiss the case without prejudice at this junction, and make a determination at a later date whether to apply for leave to refile upon a reexamination of the evidence gathered."

A hearing on whether the case will be dismissed with or without prejudice has now been set for May 25 in Sanders County District Court in Thompson Falls. At that point, Jasper said the full details of Bellesen's story, including why she went to meet Glace in the first place and how the two ended up by the river, will be revealed.

PEOPLE IN Bellesen's corner acknowledge the state's dismissal alone is a major step forward and suggests that prosecutors have already discovered various holes in their case against Bellesen. But they say she won't be fully vindicated until the charges are wiped from her record and any missteps by Sanders County personnel in the handling of the case are acknowledged.

"A motion to dismiss without prejudice allows everyone to walk away unharmed from this unjust prosecution, except for Rachel," Shaw wrote. "From the law enforcement officers who mishandled the gathering of evidence, to the County Attorney who unnecessarily rushed the charging of this case in the first place, Rachel remains the only person who will be followed by this outcome."

As just one example of a possible misstep, Shaw elaborated on the Sanders County Attorney's decision to file a deliberate homicide charge against Bellesen before a coroner's inquiry was performed — the aim of which is typically to gather all of the facts surrounding a death. On the topic, Shaw said, "It is likely that the sexual assaults which Rachel suffered immediately prior to her having to defend herself would have cleared her from being charged."

Shaw also said the state's motion to dismiss without prejudice suggests the state hasn't fully considered Glace's past assaults against Bellesen and other women.

Court documents show that in 2004, Glace and Bellesen were living together in Washington state when he pleaded guilty by way of Alford to fourth degree assault-domestic violence and third degree malicious mischief-domestic assault. Then in 2010, a court document shows Glace was found guilty of partner or family member assault (PFMA). And more recently, in 2020, he was charged with felony PFMA after he allegedly punched a Plains woman in the face.

BELLESEN TOLD the Daily Inter Lake Tuesday that Glace's abusive tendencies toward her dated back to her teenage years when the two first started dating. She said at the time, she hadn't realized that her life and her voice were "being controlled by someone else."

Bellesen said she made the difficult decision to leave that relationship more than 16 years ago after suffering multiple assaults by Glace. But despite the years apart, she said the night of Oct. 8 felt as though it might finally be the night he succeeded in killing her.

Now, beyond a motion to dismiss her case with prejudice, Bellesen said she is hoping for justice and accountability in more ways than one.

"After suffering the horrific assault by Jake, and then the extreme terror I experienced in defending myself, I was then violated by that justice system and treated like a cold-blooded murderer. And now, after it seems that the prosecutors of my case are realizing that maybe, just maybe, they were wrong about the whole thing, I am being completely disregarded by them," Bellesen asserted. "They may be whispering amongst themselves that they were wrong, but nobody is saying anything. Nobody is expressing accountability. Nobody is providing anything close to justice. They are the justice system and that is why nothing changes."

Interview requests were sent to the Sanders County sheriff, who had not yet been informed about the state's motion, and to Sanders County Attorney Naomi Leisz, who suggested questions be forwarded to Chris McConnell, who is overseeing the case at the state level.

The Daily Inter Lake was unable to make contact with McConnell to ask additional questions about Bellesen's case and the state's motion.

Those seeking various domestic violence services in Flathead County and the surrounding areas can reach the Abbie Shelter's 24-hour help line at 406-752-7273 or the Abbie Shelter's office at 406-752-4735.

Reporter Kianna Gardner may be reached at 758-4407 or kgardner@dailyinterlake.com

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