After Staryal Dedrick Johnston, the man accused of strangling his wife to death in front of his children early in September, entered a plea of ‘not guilty’ in Missoula District Court last week, many listeners asked why such defendants almost always enter such a plea.

KGVO asked Missoula County Attorney Kirsten Pabst about the matter as part of her weekly crime report on Friday’s Talk Back program.

She said such a practice is common in the judicial process.

“At their initial appearance or their arraignment, the law requires that they officially enter a formal plea,” said Pabst. “Because this is the very beginning stage of the criminal justice process, it is not unexpected at all for a defendant to enter a not guilty plea and preserve all of their rights and request a trial.”

Pabst said the not guilty plea preserves the defendant’s rights in the judicial process.

“Essentially what that not guilty plea does is that it starts the ball rolling and then we will schedule an omnibus hearing where they'll file pre trial motions,” she said. “All the while we are concurrently usually in discussions with opposing counsel about what would be a good resolution for any given case.”

Pabst addressed the particular case of Staryal Dedrick Johnston.

“In a case as serious as Mr. Johnson, the likelihood of it going to trial is quite a bit higher than I would say in your normal partner family member assault case because of the tragic result that we saw with him, and that he allegedly strangled his wife to death,” she said. “I would not be surprised at all to see this case go to trial and the not guilty plea basically, is the first step in setting the case for trial.”

Pabst appears every Friday on Talk Back to report the number of felony crimes that have occurred in the previous week.

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