HELENA – The Montana Supreme Court has ordered a new trial for a Billings man convicted of a 2015 murder of another man in a Heights trailer court, ruling a lower court improperly excluded evidence indicating a key witness may have been on drugs during the crime.
Joseph Richard Polak II is serving an 80-year sentence for shooting and killing Richard Hofferber in what was described as a dispute over a woman, Andrea Sattler.
Polak had testified that he had acted in self-defense, warning Hoffereber to stop charging him with a spiked rod while Hofferber was high on meth. He was found guilty of deliberate homicide with a weapons enhancement, criminal endangerment and tampering with evidence.
The only eyewitness, Sattler, testified that Polak was obsessed with her and gave no warning before firing.
In the majority opinion released Tuesday, Justice Jim Shea wrote that Yellowstone County District Judge Mary Jane Knisely should have allowed defense attorneys to question Sattler about her possible methamphetamine use before the shooting.
During the trial, Knisely had prohibited any reference to a meth pipe found in trailer or a text message referencing Sattler’s meth use because they were not sufficient to show Sattler was intoxicated.
Her testimony was the "crux" of the prosecutor’s case, according to Shea, and she was not questioned about a meth pipe found in her trailer or statements she made referencing drug use.
The Supreme Court dismissed other claims of Polak’s of evidence tampering by police and ineffective counsel.
Joining Shea in the majority opinion were Justices Mike McGrath, Ingrid Gustafson, Beth Baker and Dirk Sandefur.