Prosecutors want Butte homicide defendants tried together

By Mike Smith
Montana Standard

A second homicide trial stemming from a bounty hunt that turned fatal in Butte has been postponed and prosecutors now want to try both defendants at the same time.

Prosecutors have charged Nicholas John Jaeger and bondsman Jay Steven Hubber, both 34, with deliberate homicide and aggravated burglary, saying their reckless bounty hunt in December 2021 resulted in the shooting death of innocent homeowner William Harris.

Jaeger was set for trial on Monday, April 10 but it was postponed indefinitely when his defense attorney, David Maldonado, broke his leg and sustained other serious leg injuries the previous Friday.

Hubber was to go on trial May 1 and subpoenas compelling witnesses to show up in court were still going out last week. But prosecutors have now filed a motion asking District Court Judge Robert Whelan to combine the trials.

“The state asserts that consolidating the trials not only serves judicial economy but will prevent the victim’s family from having to endure two nearly identical trials,” Kelli Fivey, lead prosecutor in the case, said in a motion filed last week.

Hubber’s attorney, Palmer Hoovestal, was OK with that but wanted Hubber’s trial moved to the fall. Maldonado filed a motion last week saying he was also OK with consolidating the trials but filed a new motion Monday saying he objected.

“Counsel for defendant is currently having surgery to repair a severely broken leg and will need time to get through the initial recovery stages and properly prepare his response and objection,” Maldonado’s motion said.

Whelan has not ruled on the consolidation matter but he issued an order late Monday postponing the May 1 trial for Hubber. So within a matter of days, both trials in the highest-profile case in Butte in years have been called off at the 11th hour.

Prosecutors now want two trials combined into one.

They say Hubber and Jaeger acted in concert that night, both trials would include many of same witnesses and pieces of evidence, and both are likely to be highly publicized.

“If these matters proceed separately, it could be extremely difficult to pick a jury for the second defendant’s trial due to the media attention,” Fivey says in her motion. “Consolidating these matters ensures that both defendants obtain a fair … and impartial jury prior to media publication at trial.”

Prosecutors say on Dec. 21, 2021, Hubber and Jaeger barged into William Harris’ house in the 800 block of Main Street in Butte looking for bail-jumper David Sandoval. There were several other people in the house, too.

Hubber tased the bail jumper and during a struggle, Jaeger took a gun from Hubber and shot Harris, prosecutors allege. Harris, 42, was dead when police arrived. Jaeger, a convicted felon, had joined Hubber to assist in the bounty hunt.

Jaeger and Hubber, both 33 at the time, were each charged with deliberate homicide and aggravated burglary and have pleaded not guilty.

Hubber already tried to get the aggravated burglary charge dismissed, saying he was legally authorized as a bondsman to enter the house looking for a fugitive. Judge Whelan rejected that claim.

Jaegger has said in court motions that he acted with justifiable force to protect himself and others in a “trap house operated by William Harris where known fugitives, renegades and outlaws routinely gather.”

The trials are each expected to take several days but until recently, were essentially scheduled back-to-back. Preparations for both were in motion but prosecutors reconsidered trial logistics after Jaeger’s trial was postponed.

Prosecutors say as many as 30 of the same witnesses would be called for each trial, some need to travel, and up to 70 pieces of evidence would be utilized at both trials.

“To have to duplicate the trial would be a waste of the court’s resources as well as the parties’,” their motion says. “Consolidation would also prevent the victim’s family from having to participate in two separate trials regarding the death of their loved one.”

If the trials are to remain separate, prosecutors say, Hubber or Jaeger must show that consolidated proceedings would significantly prejudice them.

“In showing prejudice, it is not sufficient that the defendant prove some prejudice or that a better chance of acquittal exists if separate trials are held,” their motion says. “Rather, the defendant must show the prejudice was so great as to prevent a fair trial.”

Whelan gave Maldonado until April 26 to make his case against consolidating the trials.

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