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Inquest planned in Billings road-rage shooting death

Duran road rage
Posted at 6:41 PM, May 15, 2023
and last updated 2023-05-16 11:49:02-04

BILLINGS — A coroner's inquest will be scheduled in the shooting death of a Billings man, following a road rage incident on Aug. 20.

For friends and family of Michael Duran, 29, who died after being shot nine times—it's a big step forward.

"I just believe and hope and pray that justice will be served," said Sabra Mack, a friend of Duran who has been advocating for action in his case since he died nine months ago.

"You have to keep their name alive and honor them because I don't want Michael's death to be in vain," Mack said.

Surveillance video picked by MTN security cameras shows the incident at the intersection of Fourth Avenue North and North 32nd Street across from the station. The drivers of two cars, one of whom is Duran, argued over a road-rage incident, and the first punch was thrown by the driver who ultimately shot Duran.

The two men fought for a while before the driver of the first car, who had returned to his car, shot Duran nine times through his car window.

Duran died hours later at a Billings hospital.

No arrests have ever been made, but there is a new, substantial development.

Yellowstone County Attorney Scott Twito told Duran's family and friends he will be taking a major and unusual step to try and gain more information.

Twito says before summer's end, his office will hold a coroner's inquest into Duran's death.

"A coroner's inquest is an investigative technique that's allowed in the state of Montana," Twito said. "It is an inquiry conducted by a coroner with assistance from the county attorney's office and looking at the facts and circumstances and events surrounding a person's death."

According to Montana State Law, a coroner's inquest must be held following an officer-involved shooting or if a suspect dies while in custody. But calling for an inquest outside those parameters is uncommon.

"In my time as county attorney, I think we've done at least half dozen that don't involve an officer-involved shooting or a death down at the detention facility. If you included those, we do inquests quite a bit," Twito said.

Twito says factors in this case, including questions of self-defense, warrant a closer look.

"The coroner's jury, and I've invited them to do this, they can ask their own questions of the witness," Twito said. "They can ask their own questions to the coroner, they might ask questions of the county attorney. What does justifiable use of force mean? What does excessive force constitute? How do you know? All those questions are things I think that could be really insightful in this case."

Unlike a normal jury trial, jurors for the inquest will not be asked to decide if the shooter is guilty, nor does it bind Twito to bring any charges forward one way or another. It's just another piece of evidence that could guide Twito as he decides whether to press charges.

"That insight can prove invaluable when you're investigating a situation like this," Twito said.

Regardless for Mack and Duran's family, it's a positive step forward.

"I do feel optimistic, I feel better," Mack said. "But I'm still fighting."