It was likely to happen. According to today's Missoulian, Laura Hackney's attorney and prosecutors negotiated a plea bargain as the clock wound down toward her scheduled trial for deliberate homicide. My guess is that neither side was absolutely certain of its case. To win a conviction, prosecutors would have had to prove that Hackney "purposely or knowingly" caused her husband's death. Without witnesses or a confession, their proof would have been circumstantial, meaning they would have to depend on indirect evidence to lead a jury to believe that Hackney intended to kill. Hackney argued that the killing wound was an accident, that she pulled the knife only to fend off her drunken, violent husband. In the end, she agreed to plead guilty to negilgent homicide, meaning she caused her husband's death by "failing to act with reasonable care."
The recommended sentence: 15 years in the Montana State Prison women's facility, with 10 years suspended. Prosecutors said they won't quibble if the judge decides that Hackney should spend that time in a community prerelease center rather than prison.
So what do you think? Was justice done? Are plea bargains good things? As you ponder that, remember that you're responsible for producing a story from your beat this week.