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Convicted killer freed on own recognizance

Published On: Feb 13 2013 12:45:16 PM MST   Updated On: Feb 21 2013 04:29:06 PM MST
POLSON, Mont. -

After a hearing Wednesday morning, Clifford Oldhorn was released on his own recognizance pending an appeal from the Montana Supreme Court on his case.

Oldhorn was sentenced to life without parole in 2011 for killing 73-year-old Harold Mitchell Jr.  Prosecutors argued that Oldhorn helped rob, beat and stab Mitchell to death before burning down his St. Ignatius trailer on the morning of July 6, 2005.

County Attorney Mitch Young told NBC Montana Judge McNiell let Oldhorn go until there's a new trial. But officials say potential evidence was destroyed when Mitchell's body was set on fire and his home burned.

"The state had previously indicated that it would have difficulty retrying the case if the Supreme Court does not reverse the judges ruling on the suppression issue," Young explained.

Oldhorn made a confession in the case. 

"He was told he did not have to talk to us. He did all of that voluntarily and of his own free will," said Young.

But the judge decided that confession was not made voluntarily. Oldhorn had thought he would have immunity when he told authorities what happened the night he was murdered. Defense attorneys attempted to suppress the confession in 2011 but it was dismissed. In January, Judge McNeill reversed his conviction, recommended a new trial, and the Supreme Court agreed.

This new information troubled folks in Polson.

"Now they're releasing him for what? Does that make Mitchell come back? No. It is so wrong," said Polson Resident Dee Adams.

Young said Mitchell's family is disappointed.

"They're obviously hoping that the decision will be overturned or that we can re-try the case," said Young.

For now, a convicted killer walks free, a thought that continues to send chills through the community.

"I just have a tough time believing that that a brutal murderer is out on the streets awaiting the system," one resident expressed.

The County Attorney's office says Oldhorn and his attorney will most likely have to wait 9-12 months for the Supreme Court to make their decision.