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A Montana judge has permanently dismissed murder charges against a domestic violence advocate who shot and killed her ex-husband during an attempted rape last year.
Rachel Bellesen, 38, was cleared this week in the shooting death of her ex-husband, Jacob Glace, in a rare ruling following months of pressure from local activists.
A Sanders County judge dropped charges with prejudice against Bellesen on Tuesday, according to court documents obtained by Oxygen.com. The ruling guarantees protection from any future prosecution against Bellesen.
“It’s kind of surreal in a way,” her attorney, Lance Jasper, told Oxygen.com. “I never pictured myself ever going in and saying, ‘Wait, a dismissal is not good enough.’”
Jasper said the ruling provided healing and closure after months of legal purgatory.
“Yesterday was a day to celebrate,” he added. “For her to heal ... she needed the dismissal of prejudice. And it was the right thing to do.”
Last month, prosecutors indicated they’d planned to dismiss charges against Bellesen “without prejudice.” Bellesen’s legal team and her supporters, however, were vehemently opposed to that outcome, arguing she could still technically face charges at a later date.
Jasper filed a motion to dismiss “with prejudice” — a rarely granted legal request — that would block any further prosecution of the matter.
“If they dismiss without prejudice they can refile and this hangs over Rachel’s head, nobody else’s,” Jasper explained. “It’s not a case of who did it. ... If the state’s allowed to do this, the only person in this whole thing that ends up suffering — and suffers for the rest of their life — is Rachel Bellesen."
Bellesen unleashed a series of scathing remarks targeting prosecutors and police officials who’d worked to put her behind bars in a statement this week.
“Much like Jake [her ex-husband] tried so hard to do over the course of more than 20 years, the State of Montana again attempted to silence my voice,” Bellesen said in a statement sent to Oxygen.com. “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.”
Bellesen, who described her ex-husband as a “serial abuser,” specifically called out prosecutors’ failed efforts to protect sexual violence survivors as “dodgy” and “pitiful.”
“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 added. “No.”
The Sanders County Attorney’s office didn’t immediately respond to Oxygen.com’s request for comment regarding the ruling.
Bellesen opened fire on Glace after he’d allegedly attempted raping her twice on Oct. 8. He died of multiple gunshot wounds. At the time of the shooting, the former couple had been in a dispute over their son’s sexual orientation. Bellesen, who described her ex-husband as homophobic, said he had previously threatened to “beat the gayness out” of their son.
Bellesen, who reported the shooting, showed physical signs of trauma consistent with sexual assault, according to medical records. County prosecutors, however, quickly moved to file charges against her in the killing.
The Montana Department of Justice is currently reviewing the court’s decision, a spokesperson for the agency told Oxygen.com on Wednesday.
A trained social worker, Bellesen worked with domestic violence survivors while employed as a coordinator at the Abbie Shelter in Kalispell, Montana. A network of activists rallied around Bellesen in the months since her arrest and applied pressure on local officials to permanently dismiss charges against her.
Hillary Shaw, director for the Abbie Shelter, told Oxygen.com in a statement that the organization is relieved the charges were dismissed with prejudice. She said they also fiercely condemn the criminal justice system’s treatment — and retraumatization — of Bellesen.
“But we are also grieved [that] a case so obviously entrenched with sexual assault, attempted rape, and the long-term patterns of domestic violence made it this far down the halls of the legal system,” Shaw said. “In Rachel’s case, the mistakes that ‘the system’ made almost fell entirely on the shoulders of the person who was least responsible for them — on Rachel.”
Bellesen could have faced a maximum of life in prison without the possibility had she been convicted of deliberate homicide. Her attorney noted that it’s unusual, particularly in domestic violence-related self-defense cases, for charges to be dismissed with prejudice.
“There’s so many Rachel Bellesens out there that are in prison that didn’t get this chance, and that’s unfortunate,” Jasper said.
Other legal scholars agreed.
“Historically, we’ve seen many survivors of domestic violence and sexual violence who have been prosecuted for using self-defense,” said Elizabeth L. Jeglic, a sexual violence prevention expert and psychology professor at the John Jay College Of Criminal Justice in New York. “It’s very rare — in some cases, charges are dismissed, but rarely with prejudice.”
Jeglic said she was hopeful the ruling in Bellesen’s case may be a “turning point.”
“I think this signals that at least some judges are recognizing the role of domestic violence and violence as a suitable defense,” she added.
Bellesen grew up near Leavenworth, Washington. She first met and began dating Glace at the age of 15 and became pregnant with their son as a teenager. Glace was 23 at the time. Bellesen, who dropped out of school to live with Glace, said she was routinely raped and abused; she later unsuccessfully attempted suicide, according to court documents.
The couple had a second child and married in 2002, then separated the following year. Glace later stalked and ultimately attacked her; in 2004, he was charged with partner family member assault. Months later, Glace allegedly attempted to run down Bellesen with his vehicle. According to her legal team, following that incident, Bellesen attempted to cut her wrists with a box cutter. She survived and the couple filed for divorce shortly thereafter.
Despite his history of alleged domestic violence, Glace won custody of the couple’s two children.
In 2010, Glace pushed a subsequent wife to the ground and choked her, according to Bellesen’s lawyer. He was convicted on domestic violence charges. A year ago, he was charged with assault after allegedly hitting his girlfriend and throwing her into a wall.
Bellesen struggled with drugs, alcohol, and was unhoused after leaving Glace. She later moved to Montana and pursued a career in social work. She also remarried.
Bellesen has vowed to continue pushing for improved legislation when it comes to how the criminal justice system treats domestic violence survivors — particularly those accused of killing their abusers.
“It's time to change the way things are done,” she said. “The women of Montana deserve better. 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.”
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