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Chester Bauer

Other Montana Exonerations
Chester Bauer was convicted in 1983 of rape and aggravated assault. He allegedly raped the victim during a visit to her home to inquire about the sale of a boat. Bauer had been to the same home about ten days earlier, also to ask the victim and her husband about the sale. The victim testified that on the day of the crime, while inside her house, Bauer asked for a piece of paper to write down some information. She said that when she went to the kitchen to get the paper, Bauer followed her, brandished a knife, then forced her into the bedroom and raped her.
Bauer was sentenced to twenty years for rape and ten years for assault, to be served concurrently. He was also sentenced to ten years for the use of a weapon during the attack, consecutive to the other sentences.
At Bauer’s trial, the chief of the Montana State Crime Lab, Arnold Melnikoff, testified that hairs from the victim’s bedding matched Bauer’s hair. Melnikoff gave improper statistical information about the alleged hair match, saying: “To have them both match, it would be the multiplication of both factors so approximately using that 1 out of 100, you come out with a number like 1 chance in 10,000.” There is not adequate empirical data on the frequency of various class characteristics in human hair, so it is scientifically invalid to assert whether consistency is a rare or common event.
Melnikoff also testified incorrectly about a blood type match in the case, saying that Bauer was among just 7.5% of the population that could have matched evidence from the crime scene. This number was incorrect, because the victim’s blood type also matched the crime scene evidence. When the evidence being tested is a mixed stain of semen from the perpetrator and vaginal secretions from the victim—and when testing does not detect blood group substance or enzymes foreign to the victim—no potential semen donor can be excluded because the victim’s blood group markers could be “masking” the perpetrator’s. Under such circumstances, the failure to inform the jury that 100% of the male population could be included and that none can be excluded is highly misleading.
In 1997, a Silver Bow County judge vacated Bauer’s conviction and dismissed the charges against him, after DNA testing proved that Bauer was not the man who attacked the victim. Bauer was the first person in the state of Montana to be exonerated by DNA. He remains in prison serving a life sentence for an unrelated crime.
— Michael Shaffer

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Posting Date:  Before June 2012
County:Silver Bow
Most Serious Crime:Sexual Assault
Additional Convictions:Assault
Reported Crime Date:1983
Sentence:30 years
Age at the date of reported crime:26
Contributing Factors:Mistaken Witness ID, False or Misleading Forensic Evidence, Official Misconduct
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:Yes