‘An Absurd Result’ looks at first Montana case of DNA-overturned conviction

Bromgard spent 15 years in state prison for a rape he didn’t commit; while DNA pointed to the real perpetrator

By: - November 13, 2021 10:02 am

The Billings Gazette article from 1987 that details Jimmy Ray Bromgard’s sentencing for rape. Fifteen years later, DNA cleared him of the crime.

When Jule Banville first met Linda Glantz, she knew she had the story of a lifetime.

Really, it’s a story of at least several lifetimes – one of Linda Glantz, one of Jimmy Ray Bromgard and one of Ronald Tipton. It’s also a story about science, justice and the letter of the law. And, it’s all available in Banville’s new podcast, “An Absurd Result,” a seven-part series that examines the 1987 rape case in which Glantz was the victim, Bromgard was the accused, and Tipton went undetected until 2015.

The case was also the first – but not the last – that used DNA evidence to overturn a conviction while at the same time, pointing to a different perpetrator who escaped the same fate as Bromgard because of the state’s statute of limitations.

The most unthinkable crime

Linda Glantz was just 8 and living on Virginia Lane in Billings in 1987, nearby Pioneer Park, the central park in the largest city in Montana. While seven members of her family slept in the same house, an intruder crawled through an open bathroom window and brutally attacked Glantz while she was in bed, around 4 in the morning.

The rapist gagged Glantz, then threatened her he would kill her if she made a sound. Then, he proceeded to rape her vaginally, anally and orally. He left the same way he entered the house.

Glantz woke her father, Mark, first, and he tried to assure her it was a very vivid dream. But a stick propping up the bathroom window, confirmed the unimaginable — someone had been in her room, in the house, all while they slept undisturbed.

Want to hear the podcast?

Absurd result podcast.

Four of the seven episodes of “An Absurd Result” have been released as of this article’s publication.

It chronicles the 1987 rape case of Linda Tokarski Glantz and the conviction and later exoneration of Jimmy Ray Bromgard who spent 15 years in prison for the crime he didn’t commit, while pointing to the man who authorities believe was responsible.

Want to hear more? Go to: https://www.absurdresultpodcast.com/

Or, find the podcast on your iPhone through the Podcast search function.

From there, an investigation happened quickly and authorities had what they considered a strong case. Linda and her mother went to the hospital for an examination and collection of evidence. Linda described her attacker to a police sketch artist. And at least one Billings Police Detective identified the suspect as an 18-year-old troublemaker who lived not far away on Alderson Avenue by the name of James “Jimmy” Ray Bromgard, who had recently been released from Pine Hills Correctional facility in Miles City after Bromgard had stolen a car.

Bromgard was picked out of a police line-up, and a trial and conviction soon followed. Bromgard was scheduled to spend most of his life behind bars for the assault until fledgling DNA technology proved beyond on a reasonable doubt that DNA left on Glantz’s pink underwear was not his.

However, that same DNA test came back with a positive identification of another former convict, Ronald Tipton, who was living in White Sulphur Springs.

This podcast or bust

Banville first met Glantz in 2015 when she decided to tell her story and needed to find a journalist to help. A friend of Glantz knew Banville and knew she was a journalist. That’s the genesis of what would become a six-year project.

Banville, who teaches journalism at the University of Montana, decided that she would either take a sabbatical to work on this project, or she said she wouldn’t take a sabbatical at all. It’s was this story or bust.

But she wanted to tell the entire story – one without any clear winners.

“This is the only thing I wanted to do,” Banville said. “I’ve never had a story this good land in my lap, and it’s the story of my career. It was pure luck that I met her.”

She wanted to talk about how the family had seemingly done everything right, down to the rape examination at the hospital to the faulty evidence – hair samples – that put Bromgard behind bars. She wanted to tell about the thrill of exonerating Bromgard and the pain of finding conclusive DNA evidence but being barred from prosecution because of laws that were behind other states.

And she was intrigued by talking with Bromgard, who was labeled as a “juvenile delinquent” and would eventually come to believe that even though he hadn’t committed the crime, he reasoned he would have likely wound up in the same place, prison.

“We love it when a good guy goes free,” Banville said. “There was so much ink about what happened (after the crime) and now we realize, he was a victim.”

A victim that spent 15 years – arguably the best years of his life – behind bars, convicted because he didn’t have an alibi, and a technique taught by the FBI, but now considered junk science, helped convince people he was a monster.

Banville’s podcast takes listeners through the details, through the family that split apart after the tragedy, and how Bromgard refused to let bitterness overcome him.

She also marvels at Glantz’s ability to talk about an almost unimaginable incident, and how she dealt with the aftermath of learning the man who raped her was always free, and would never pay the price for his crime because of what some would consider a technicality, the statute of limitations.

“It’s called ‘An Absurd Result’ so you know it’s not going to be good,” Banville said. “The real problem with this case is the statute of limitations. Good people can argue for and against the statute of limitations for rape, but you know what? There is no statute of limitations for murder. But in the case of rape, they did that because memories fade, and we know that they can be unreliable. But now we have DNA, and that is a new problem.”

Banville said by exploring new science behind DNA evidence, it presents a massively uncomfortable question for courts and society: What about all those people who were convicted without DNA evidence? What about them?

Bromgard was the first person in Montana to have DNA overturn his conviction, but he wasn’t the last. And courts will likely confront the question more and more as a backlog of rape kits with DNA evidence are processed.

“Linda doesn’t get justice because of the statute of limitations, but if this would have happened in say, Wyoming, not too far from Billings where the crime had occurred, she would have,” Banville said. “It’s anger provoking that it depends on where you live. How is that fair?”

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Darrell Ehrlick
Darrell Ehrlick

Darrell Ehrlick is the editor-in-chief of the Daily Montanan, after leading his native state’s largest paper, The Billings Gazette. He is an award-winning journalist, author, historian and teacher, whose career has taken him to North Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Utah, and Wyoming. With Darrell at the helm, the Gazette staff took Montana’s top newspaper award six times in seven years. Darrell's books include writing the historical chapters of “Billings Memories” Volumes I-III, and “It Happened in Minnesota.” He has taught journalism at Winona State University and Montana State University-Billings, and has served on the student publications board of the University of Wyoming.