At about 1:30 p.m. on June 23, workers from Montana State University discovered the body of a shooting victim in a wheat field west of Bozeman.
Seven days later, two former MSU student-athletes were in the Gallatin County Detention Center facing murder charges.
“We have some resolution to the events that started last Friday afternoon,” Sheriff Jim Cashell said after the arrests.
But in this chilling tale of drugs and violence, Thursday’s arrests concluded just a single chapter. The rest of the story is expected to play out in the days, weeks and months to come.
“What we have is a partial resolution,” Cashell said. “We still have a long way to go.”
It took extensive cooperation from numerous branches of law enforcement to get to this point. In addition to the sheriff’s office, Cashell said Belgrade police, Bozeman police, MSU police, the Montana Highway Patrol, the Missouri River Drug Task Force, Gallatin County Search and Rescue, the Montana Department of Criminal Investigations, Helena police and Lewis and Clark County sheriff’s deputies all were instrumental in the investigation.
“We’ve had people working ... 24 hours at a time on everything that has been going on for the past week,” Cashell said. “I think it’s because a lot of folks did some real good police work that we were able to bring this to some sort of resolution.
But a number of important questions remain unanswered as the investigation enters its second week.
“It’s important that we recognize that the investigation continues as we speak, Gallatin County Attorney Marty Lambert said Thursday. “A number of officers in these agencies continue to run down leads.”
An affidavit of probable cause was filed in court in conjunction with the arrests of Branden Levar Miller and John Lebrum, both 22. That document has been the public’s only real access to the events leading up to and following the murder of Jason Wright.
But the document does not include numerous key details, including who actually killed Wright. According to the affidavit, Miller claimed that he helped Lebrum kidnap Wright but then went home and was not around when Wright died.
The affidavit does not mention any police interviews with Lebrum.
“At this time I don’t think we know who the shooter was,” Cashell said Thursday.
Police are also still working to identify the murder weapon. According to the affidavit, .40-caliber shell casings were found at the crime scene. On Thursday Cashell confirmed that one of the guns recovered from the locker of an MSU basketball player was a .40 caliber.
The gun was sent to the state crime lab to determine if there is a match. The sheriff had not received any test results as of Monday afternoon, Undersheriff Jim Oberhofer said.
Investigators are also working to identify a vehicle linked to the crime scene. A search last week turned up Wright’s missing 2003 Chevy Tahoe outside a vacant Belgrade auto shop, but the vehicle didn’t match tire tracks left near Wright’s body.
According to the affidavit, an eyewitness saw Wright fleeing from a maroon GMC Envoy shortly before his death. Investigators said the tires on a maroon GMC Envoy registered to the father of a former MSU basketball standout were “consistent in both tread size and pattern” with tire tracks left at the crime scene. Police are still investigating that angle.
“We’ve got mountains of things that we’ve picked up in the last week that need to be processed,” Cashell said. “We are a long way from done. There are a lot of people that need to be interviewed and a lot of things that need to be done before we can put this thing to rest.”
The witness who saw Wright fleeing the Envoy also told police that there was a man in the back seat of the vehicle as it was parked in the southbound Lane of Ferguson Avenue. The man was described in the affidavit as tall with dark hair, but as of Thursday had not been identified.
Nor have authorities disclosed whether anyone else played a role in the case. Several people are named in the affidavit, including the owner of the maroon Envoy; the man who led police to the guns and Wright’s ID in the MSU fieldhouse locker; and others.
“There may be additional arrests coming,” Lambert said. “I can’t tell you when; I can’t tell you if any of the people who were named in the affidavit of probable cause will be involved.”
Also remaining a mystery is what role drugs may have played in the murder. According to the affidavit, Wright was described by his brother as a cocaine dealer. But police have not said whether that allegation has any bearing on his brutal murder.
“At this time we are not going to speculate on any kind of a motive,” Cashell said Thursday. “Until we manage to get this sorted out, we aren’t going to try and guess.”