A judge in Sanders County, Montana, on Tuesday dropped deliberate homicide charges against a woman who killed her abusive ex-husband, in a surprising win for advocates who argued she should not have to live with the threat of prosecution hanging over her.
Rachel Bellesen, a 38-year-old coordinator at the Abbie Shelter for domestic violence survivors, shot and killed her former husband, Jacob Glace, on Oct. 8 of last year. Bellesen admitted to the shooting but said she did so because Glace, who had pleaded guilty to assaulting her years earlier, had twice attempted to rape her that night.
Prosecutors moved to drop the charges against Bellesen without prejudice last month, claiming they needed more time to review the results of forensic tests. But advocates from the Abbie Shelter argued the charges should be dropped with prejudice, meaning prosecutors would not be able to bring them again at a later date. “An injustice has been done,” shelter director Hilary Shaw told The Daily Beast at the time. “And the right thing to do is to fully vindicate Rachel.”
On Tuesday, District Court Judge Amy Eddy did just that, ordering the charges against Bellesen dropped with prejudice in a highly unusual move.
“I never thought I’d go in and have to argue and say a dismissal isn’t good enough,” Bellesen’s attorney, Lance Jasper, told The Daily Beast. “But gosh, it was great.”
In a statement, Bellesen took aim at the state and county prosecutors for behavior she said mirrored that of her abuser.
“Much like Jake tried so hard to do over the course of more than 20 years, the State of Montana again attempted to silence my voice,” she said. “At the very start they declared me a murderer, claimed I executed an innocent man in cold blood. They took my life, the lives of my loved ones, ripped it all apart with their horrible claims, and then tried to just walk away when they realized that they had no case.”
“It was eerily similar to when an abuser attacks you—and then tries to serve a sad excuse of apology with a bouquet of flowers the next morning, expecting you to just take them in gratitude, say nothing, and go on about your day like nothing happened,” she said. “No.”
A spokesperson for the Montana Department of Justice said they were reviewing the decision.
Court records show Glace pleaded guilty to fourth-degree assault against Bellesen in 2004, when the couple lived together in Washington state, and Bellesen says he continued to harass her even after they were divorced. The night of Oct. 8, Bellesen says she went to meet him at a swimming hole because he had made threatening comments about their son. There, she says Glace attacked her and attempted to rape her before she pulled out her gun and shot him.
Bellesen and her current husband, Corey Bellesen, called police shortly thereafter to report what had happened, and she was taken to a local hospital where police documented her injuries. The county attorney filed charges against her the next day.
Glace was also convicted of domestic violence in 2010, when he pushed his new wife to the ground and choked her, according to a police report, and was charged with the same crime in May 2020 over a dispute with another partner. In April 2020, he was charged with assault for allegedly hitting his girlfriend in the face, smashing a chair, and slamming her into a wall.
Karla Fischer, an attorney and consultant who has worked on more than 200 domestic violence-related self-defense cases, previously told The Daily Beast she had only heard of two such cases in which the charges were dismissed at all. Dropping them with prejudice, she said, was almost unheard of. But she praised the work of Bellesen’s advocates, saying they were “right to push for this to truly be over for this woman.”
Despite securing victory in her own case, Bellesen said the legal system still needs to change how it handles similar cases.
“Continuing to do things the wrong way, simply because ‘that is the way they are always done,’ is bullshit,” she said. “It's time to change the way things are done.”
“The women of Montana deserve better,” she added. “Our mothers, grandmothers, sisters, aunts, and daughters deserve better. ALL of our children deserve better. Our country deserves better. And I'm not going away in silence.”