After a grueling 10-hour coroner inquest, a jury cleared Darby Marshal Larry Rose and determined he was justified in his shooting of Matthew M. Plympton.
Rose shot and killed the 20-year-old man after Plympton allegedly attacked and injured Rose during a domestic disturbance response in the early morning hours of Feb. 26, 2005.
The coroner inquest was conducted by Powell County Coroner John Pohl. Though not a trial, the inquest is before a jury and witnesses are called to give testimony.
Nine jurors were charged with answering four questions outlined in Montana statutes: Who the deceased was; when and where he came to meet his death; if he came to death by criminal means; and if he was killed or his death occurred by the act of another by criminal means.
Witness included the two women in the home at the time of the shooting as well as numerous officers and detectives who responded to the scene.
The last witnesses called to testify were Rose and State Medical Examiner Gary Dale, who was the final witness.
After taking a particularly "stunning blow" to the side of his head during the struggle with Plympton, Rose was nearly rendered unconscious.
"I remember thinking if he knocks me out, I'm dead." Rose testified. "He's going to get my gun and shoot me."
Rose described the fight step-by-step as Ravalli County Chief Deputy Attorney Geoff Mahar guided him.
Rose went through the fight with Matthew Plympton in detail.
"I kept trying to protect my gun. He was grabbing for it," he described.
Near the end of fight, Plympton pulled Rose's jacket over his head, according to testimony.
"I figured I was in trouble," Rose said. "It was dark and I couldn't see anything. I just got scared… this guy is going to kill me. I have to get to my weapon."
The jacket was eventually pulled completely over Rose's head, leaving him with limited mobility. He said he was trapped between protecting himself from the blows that continued to rain down on him from Plympton or reach for his sidearm.
In court, Rose put on his jacket and showed how the last few moments of the fight went down.
"I new if I didn't get it, he' was going to get it and kill me. There was no doubt I was dead if he got the gun," Rose said.
The description continued as Rose relived the events of the night.
"Finally I was able to reach it. I had to let my guard down. He's still swinging art me as I was reaching for the gun. I finally got a hold of it, and I pulled it up and fired three times - boom, boom, boom." Rose described.
The jury deliberated for less than 30 minutes. In the reading of the verdict, the foreman explained the facts as the jury understood and then pronounced Rose cleared of criminal wrongdoing.
"He fired three times into Matthew Morgan Plympton. This was not a criminal means. Marshal Rose's actions were justified to defend himself and other people," the foreman said.
With a packed courthouse for most of the day, only a handful of law enforcement officers were present at the verdict's reading. Family members were unsatisfied with the jury's findings.
"I don't like it. I don't like that my son was shot in the back of the head," Matthew Plympton's father Vance Plympton said after hearing the verdict.
The inquest went well into the evening and the sun had set by the time the verdict was returned.
"If he would have waited five minutes for back up they could have saved a life," Vance Plympton said after the verdict.
"A beautiful life," Matthew Plympton's mother Helga Plympton added as the couple walked down the darkened sidewalks away from the court house.
Reporter Timothy Mitchell can be reached at 363-3300 or firstname.lastname@example.org