Richard Raugust is a free man.

The Montana Innocence Project announced Raugust’s exoneration at a press conference in the University of Montana’s law school on Sept. 7. Raugust was the MTIP’s first client, and is the first to successfully be proven innocent.

Raugust was wrongfully convicted of murdering his best friend Joe Tash in 1997 in Sanders County, Montana. On Sept. 7, Sanders County attorney Robert Zimmerman filed a motion to dismiss the charges, fully freeing Raugust. He spent 18 years in prison, but was released in January 2015.

“We couldn’t be happier for Richard,” MTIP legal director Larry D. Mansch said.

The Montana Innocence Project is a statewide organization made up of public officials, attorneys, journalists and lawyers aiming to exonerate the innocent and prevent wrongful convictions. It is affiliated with UM’s school of law and school of journalism.

Raugust first reached out to the MTIP in 2009, a year after its founding.

MTIP found key evidence supporting Raugust’s alibi that he wasn’t at the campsite where his friend was killed in Trout Creek, Montana, said Brett Schandelson, one of the attorneys working on the case. Witnesses also testified to seeing things that weren’t previously exposed.

“It’s truly a watershed moment,” Schandelson said.

Schandelson said the MTIP hopes to announce more exonerations soon.

Abby Lynes