Convict was about to get new murder trial, but the Idaho Supreme Court blocked it

Jaimi Charboneau
Jaimi Charboneau

The Idaho Supreme Court on Friday overturned a decision by a Blaine County district judge ordering a new trial for Jaimi Charboneau.

Charboneau was convicted in the July 1984 shooting death of his wife, Marilyn Arbaugh, 36, at her residence at a ranch near Jerome. She was shot 16 times with a rifle.

In May 2015, Charboneau was released from prison after 5th District Judge Robert Elgee ruled that he was entitled to a new trial, citing new evidence that surfaced in 2011. A letter supposedly written in 1989 by Tira Arbaugh, the daughter of the murdered woman, said prosecutors told her to lie about what happened the day her mother was killed and to conceal evidence in the case.

Tira Arbaugh died before the letter came to light. Her family claimed it was a forgery, but Elgee concluded it was authentic.

The Supreme Court found that Charboneau waited too long to press the issue. It found that Charboneau’s mother claimed that Tira told her of the discrepancy over her testimony during the trial and at sentencing.

“It is highly unlikely that if in fact such statements were made that she herself would have withheld such information from her son or his attorney,” 3rd District Judge John Butler wrote during an earlier appeal.

Tira’s alleged recantation was never raised in the 14 years between Arbaugh’s murder and Tira’s death. The court also found no evidence to indicate that police, prosecutors or anyone else involved in the government’s case knew of the letter.

“Charboneau cannot show materiality unless he can show that there is a reasonable probability that his conviction or sentence would have been different had the Tira letter been disclosed,” Justice Daniel Eismann wrote in the 20-page decision.

The letter even contradicted Charboneau’s own incriminating testimony, the court found. Charboneau admitted shooting Arbaugh with the Remington rifle while she was unarmed and running away. He admitted that he had sole possession of the rifle from the time he shot her until he threw it into a wheat field.

The forensic evidence showed that Arbaugh was shot at least 14 times with that rifle. Charboneau claimed that Arbaugh was shot in the head with a .22-caliber pistol, which another of her daughters grabbed after she heard shooting, but the forensic evidence disproved Charboneau’s claims, the high court said.

The Supreme Court ordered Elgee to dismiss Charboneau’s petition for postconviction relief, thus also negating the order for a new trial.

Charges in Star

Charboneau remains in the Ada County Jail on charges filed after his 2015 release. In February 2016, he was arrested after a Star woman said she came home and found him hiding in her closet.

The woman said Charboneau, whom she knows, threatened her with a gun. She ran to a neighbor’s house and called 911.

Minutes later, Charboneau called police and claimed that the woman held him hostage. He told deputies he escaped from the house, drove away and called police.

After speaking to both parties, deputies arrested Charboneau and charged him with burglary and aggravated battery with a deadly weapon. He has pleaded not guilty and is scheduled to go to trial Oct. 23.

John Sowell: 208-377-6423, @IDS_Sowell