Our Support of Rachel Bellesen




On October 8th, 2020, our colleague, Rachel Bellesen, was arrested and subsequently charged with deliberate homicide for shooting and killing her abusive ex-husband. On May 25, 2021, the charge was dropped. This is a reverse chronological running log of the Abbie Shelter's public response to that event.


MOVING THROUGH 8.24.21

Since domestic & sexual violence is our field, we have long observed the stats surrounding the impact of domestic violence in the workplace. And yet, little could have prepared our organization to be that workplace, supporting our colleague as she navigated such intense circumstances. While Rachel's situation is/was an outlier, the roots of the pattern of control that she faced were familiar, as was the organization's response of support and advocacy.

For decades now, the Abbie Shelter has stood with those who experience domestic and sexual violence in the Flathead Valley. We are grateful for the ways that we no longer stand alone. We are grateful for those who stood with Rachel by contacting their state and local leaders on her behalf. We are grateful for those who dedicated their time and talents to bring about justice in this case. We are grateful for the media highlighting and publicizing the facts. And, be it the local papers, national media outlets, or the A&E producers that Rachel has worked with along the way, we are grateful for the other entities that sought to give their microphone to Rachel. The world needs to hear the stories that survivors are generous enough to share.


DISMISSAL RESPONSES 5.26.21

On May 26, the Abbie hosted an event called "An Evening for Grief and Gratitude." It was small event which allowed Rachel's supporters to sit with the conflicting feelings that emerged after months of fighting for justice. Below are the responses that were read at this event.


THE ABBIE SHELTER'S RESPONSE


The Abbie Shelter is relieved that Rachel’s case was dismissed with prejudice at the May 25 hearing. 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 speaks volumes to the barriers that victims of domestic and sexual violence routinely face within a legal system tasked to protect them.


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. So yes, the Abbie Shelter is relieved that this decision righted the wrong in Rachel’s legal case.


And, the Abbie Shelter is grieved for what Rachel and her family endured in the process. We are grieved for the countless other victims who do not have access to an all-star pro bono legal team, who cannot rely on the perceived credibility of their light skin, who do not have a team of experienced advocates instantly by their side, and who therefore will not be as fortunate with the same outcome. We are grieved by the thought of how rare this outcome actually is.


The dismissal with prejudice allows the confluence of grief and relief. In this space, we add to our baseline gratitudes that we have slowly built since October 8:


Rachel is alive and safe.

Rachel has a team of support that has surrounded her and put their names on the line for the

furtherance of justice.

Rachel is not going to trial, and she will not live with the threat of prosecution following her throughout her life.


The Abbie Shelter will continue to use our lens of grief and relief to serve victims as best we can. We make room for the hope that this decision creates, as we encourage our legal system to continue to better itself, and provide the protection that victims of sexual and domestic violence deserve.


RACHEL'S RESPONSE


First and foremost, I would like to express my deepest gratitude and admiration for all of you. Your support and kindness throughout this whole ordeal not only provided me with the strength I needed to get to this point, but it shows the world just how much it matters to have people supporting us during our darkest days. When someone choses to abuse, their manipulative nature almost guarantees that they will have countless people supporting them -- all too often leaving their victim feeling alone and unheard. If you are a victim of domestic violence, please know that I hear you and I see you, and that I see the courage that you put forth every single day just to survive. If you need help, or just someone to share your story with, please do not be afraid to reach out to us. It is purely amazing what can happen when we all come together to support people who so often feel lost, alone, and voiceless.

I also want to acknowledge another truth. There have been some statements since my hearing yesterday about white privilege. I have also felt this truth churning in my stomach throughout the entire course of my defense, conflicting with my sense of just being an individual who survived horrible events, while also feeling extreme sadness that so many women who do not look like me would have never experienced the outcome I achieved. The truth is that had my skin been a different color, even if the details of events were otherwise exactly the same, I would probably still be sitting in the jail with an astronomically high bond, hoping for a case update from a public defender who is overworked and underpaid, barely knowing my name, knowing that the only options available are plea deals or trial - and that my life would effectively be over. This is not acceptable.

I have spent almost 30 years being on guard and living in trepidation. Waiting for that other shoe to drop. I was so used to it that I didn’t even recognize the coercive control that continued over all of the years since the divorce. The happiness, disbelief, and gratitude that I felt immediately after the Judge's ruling yesterday quickly subsided and I felt lost. How am I supposed to live now? How do I wake up in the morning and not mentally prepare for dealing with my abuser? How do I go about my day without planning for every "what if", and how do I begin to actually heal versus just living? I definitely do not have all the answers to those questions. But I know where I am going to start - using the privilege of my voice to bring domestic violence out from behind closed doors. Solutions can't be found if people are not aware of the problem. Let's fight to change that.


Edited to add articles:

 
A CALL FOR ACTION from the Abbie Shelter 4.23.21

To our community and beyond:

We are deeply grieved that our community member, friend, and colleague, Rachel Bellesen, is being unjustly prosecuted for deliberate homicide in Sanders County for killing her abusive ex-husband in a justifiable exercise of her right to self-defense from his attempted rape on October 8th, 2020. This is a terrible injustice occurring in the State of Montana, sending a hopeless message to all victims of domestic violence that their voices will be unheard or their safety unprioritized in our legal system.

On October 9th, 2020, in the Justice Court of Sanders County, County Attorney Naomi Leisz formally charged Rachel Ann Bellesen, a resident of Flathead County, with deliberate homicide of Jacob Angelo Glace, who resided in Sanders County. Three weeks later, Rachel was released on bail with a bond of $20,000, an uncharacteristically low bond for such a serious charge. Since then, Rachel’s pro-bono legal team has been working tirelessly to see this unjust case dismissed.

On April 6th, 2021, Rachel and her attorney made an offer to prosecutors to turn over their entire defense to the state for their evaluation, in exchange for a dismissal without prejudice with an automatic conversion to “with prejudice” barring prosecution after one year. Instead of responding to this offer, on April 9th, 2021 the prosecution filed a motion to dismiss the case without prejudice, based on weak arguments of lack of time instead of acknowledging the gaping holes and investigative errors in the state’s case.

A motion to dismiss “without prejudice” is not justice for Rachel.

In order to achieve true justice for Rachel, this case must be dismissed WITH prejudice to ensure that Rachel will be protected from unjust prosecution in the future, and that this case is eliminated from her permanent record. While the dismissal is a step forward, it means that this case will follow Rachel for the rest of her life. She will live in fear that the case may be refiled. These charges will remain a permanent stain on Rachel’s record. While the state has come close to admitting a lack of evidence to continue with deliberate homicide charges, they have not vindicated Rachel. These actions diminish the rights of victims to safety and justice in our state’s legal system.

A motion to dismiss without prejudice allows everyone to walk away unharmed from this unjust prosecution – except for Rachel. From the law enforcement officers who mishandled the gathering of evidence, to the County Attorney who unnecessarily rushed the charging of this case in the first place, Rachel remains the only person who will be followed by this outcome. Unless the case is dismissed with prejudice, her name will forever be tied to her charges.

On April 14th, 2021, at long last, this case landed on the desk of Austin Knudsen, the Attorney General for the state of Montana. Despite the countless errors in the prosecution’s investigation and the obvious lack of evidence noted in the April 9th motion to dismiss without prejudice, the Attorney General made no changes to the motion. Rachel will either face the lifelong threat of refiled charges, or she will face a trial by jury in July. With this act, our Attorney General has chosen not to act on behalf of justice and on behalf of domestic violence survivors everywhere.


We need your help: Please contact the Attorney General by May 10th, 2021 and tell him to dismiss the charges against Rachel Bellesen with prejudice.

Based on the evidence available today, we seek your support, your voice, and your written call upon Attorney General Austin Knudsen to end this overzealous and inappropriate prosecution of an innocent person, and dismiss the charges against Rachel Ann Bellesen WITH PREJUDICE. To do otherwise would be a gross injustice against a survivor of domestic violence. Rachel should be free to live her life without fear of the legal system, instead of suffering further injustice at the hands of the very system she works alongside to protect and empower other victims of domestic violence. The tragic irony could not be more profound.


Rachel Bellesen works as is a Domestic Violence Advocate and is a service to our community.

Rachel is a compassionate and quiet person. An expert baker, handy-woman of all trades, and mother of four adult children, Rachel works as a domestic violence advocate with the Abbie Shelter in Kalispell. As the Shelter Coordinator she has served hundreds of survivors of domestic violence during her tenure, helping them seek safety and recovery from abusive partners just like her ex-husband.

The events of October 8th, 2020 were far from the first acts of violence that Jacob Glace committed against Rachel.

The charging documents themselves support that, on the day of the tragedy, Mr. Glace physically and sexually assaulted Rachel. Her shirt, bra, and pants were ripped, and Mr. Glace’s scratch marks were on Rachel’s chest. Had the assault continued, Rachel would have suffered (at a minimum) a completed rape by Mr. Glace. It was far from the first time Rachel was assaulted by Mr. Glace. It is likely that her past trauma of being raped by Mr. Glace, paired with her current work as a domestic violence advocate, gave her the strength to escape his grasp and defend herself against his violent assault.

The prosecution of this case has been riddled with error from the beginning. The Sanders County Attorney filed a deliberate homicide charge against Rachel before a standard coroner’s inquiry was conducted. It is likely that the sexual assaults which Rachel suffered immediately prior to her having to defend herself would have cleared her from being charged. Sadly, that coroner’s inquiry did not take place. In addition, despite an offer from the Montana Department of Justice’s Department of Criminal Investigation (DCI) to aid in the investigation, the Sanders County Attorney declined and relied upon an inexperienced trainee to conduct the investigation.

Mr. Glace had a long and fraught history of committing domestic and sexual violence crimes against multiple victims, including Rachel. Mr. Glace’s first documented assault of Rachel was in Washington State in 2004, where Mr. Glace pleaded guilty (Alford) to Fourth Degree Assault - Domestic Violence and Third Degree Malicious Mischief - Domestic Violence. He dragged her from a friend’s house by her hair and beat her in a parking lot as punishment for leaving him.

In 2010, with another victim, Glace was found guilty of Partner or Family Member Assault (PFMA) in Flathead County stemming from an incident in August 2009, where he assaulted his new wife on their wedding day at Rachel’s home. It was Rachel and Jake’s son, age 10 at the time, who called 911 on his father that day.

In April 2020, with yet another victim, Mr. Glace was charged with PFMA after he allegedly punched his partner of 10 years in Plains, MT in front of their children. In this, the victim was quoted in the Kalispell Daily Interlake newspaper saying, “I met Jacob (Glace) in February 2010 and we started dating in April. We were together until December 2019 and lived together until he hit me in front of my kids in March 2020. He was very abusive across the board, sexually, physically, emotionally, and financially," the victim said. "An investigation against him was opened in June (2020) for sexually assaulting one of the kids."

A few months later, while Mr. Glace was out on bail for these charges, he acquired yet another felony PFMA charge for allegedly assaulting yet another victim in Mineral County.

All the while, Rachel maintained a relationship with Mr. Glace in order to co-parent their 2 children, now young adults. In fact, the reason she had gone to meet her ex-husband in Sanders County on October 8th, 2020 was to appeal to him not to follow through on a threat to assault their son.

Clearly the October 8th, 2020 assault on Rachel was only the latest in a string of recent crimes in 2020 by Mr. Glace. There is a very strong argument that Mr. Glace should have been in jail, facing these two felony assault charges, as would have been the case in most other jurisdictions in the State of Montana. Needless to say, this may have protected Rachel from his violent attack.

In summary, Montana taxpayer dollars are paying for the unjust prosecution of a domestic violence advocate for protecting herself against a violent attack from her abusive ex-husband - in Sanders County, Montana, a county and state that champion gun rights for self-defense.

This tragic story is filled with contradiction. This expense on the back of Montana taxpayers is a particular sting to domestic violence organizations, as we fight tirelessly every year to maintain our financial support from the state. As domestic violence advocates, we watch dangerous domestic violence abusers walk free every day. Violent abusers are often unprosecuted, out on low bail despite high indications of lethality, continuing to abuse their partners with virtually no accountability from the legal system. This case is a sting to all of us as we stand on the front lines of domestic violence in our state while we watch our colleague suffer.

Please contact Attorney General Austin Knudsen today, and tell him to dismiss the charges against Rachel Ann Bellesen with prejudice. Use this online form or call 406-444-2026 TODAY.

Then contact Senator Tester, Senator Daines, Congressperson Rosendale, and your local Montana legislators and ask them to send the same message to the Attorney General’s office. A hearing for a motion to dismiss the case against Rachel is set in Thompson Falls for May 25th, 2021. On behalf of all victims and survivors of domestic and sexual violence in the state of Montana, we appreciate your timely response to this matter by May 10th, 2021. IN THE PLACES WHERE RACHEL HAS BEEN MADE VOICELESS, LET’S MAKE OUR VOICES HEARD. With gratitude and hope, Hilary Shaw, Executive Director The Abbie Shelter, Kalispell, MT director@abbieshelter.org, 406-261-9082 www.abbieshelter.org

PS. Rachel’s story has been selected and is currently being filmed by an A&E television series entitled, “The Accused: Guilty or Innocent.” In the next year when her episode is aired, the entire nation will have the opportunity to witness how the state of Montana responded to this injustice against a domestic violence survivor and advocate.



 
STATEMENT FROM THE Abbie Shelter 10.28.21

We are beyond grateful for warmth and support that Rachel and her family have received from this community (and beyond!) since the day of her arrest. As of today, Rachel is home safe with her family, due in no small part to the powerful show of support yesterday by local people, domestic violence advocates from across the state, and friends of friends of friends who held space at Rachel’s hearing via Zoom.


Rachel’s journey towards justice is far from over. A trial is scheduled for mid-April, and there is much work to be done towards the end goal of having these charges completely dismissed. After that, we will continue in our work of providing education and support towards the key players in the legal system with renewed motivation, driven by the re-traumatization that Rachel is suffering as a result of a legal system that blamed her instead of supporting her. As domestic and sexual violence advocates, we are TIRED of seeing this happen.


As domestic and sexual violence advocates, this story strikes a deep chord with everyone in our field. This has happened to an Advocate at our agency, but it could happen to any of us. We all stand together – in Montana, in the northwest, and around the country – in solidarity for Rachel and for the hundreds of thousands of survivors that we collectively serve every year, because we all know what these survivors truly deserve from our legal system: SAFETY.


Rachel’s friends have started a GoFundMe page to raise money for her defense and the other associated expenses. Let this serve as a reminder to all of us of how expensive it is (among other things!) to be victimized by domestic and sexual violence. The best way to support Rachel is to support this page, and spread the word far and wide! https://www.gofundme.com/f/rachel-bellesen-defense-fund.


 

STATEMENT FROM THE Abbie Shelter 10.12.20

The Abbie Shelter is deeply grieved that our community member and colleague, Shelter Coordinator Rachel Bellesen, has been charged with deliberate homicide in Sanders County for killing her abusive ex-husband in her own self-defense. Based on our knowledge of the information available, this is our organization’s position. We are stunned to have a member of our staff on the receiving end of the very injustice we work so hard to prevent and oppose in our community. We understand that the investigation of the incident is ongoing and what occurred was part of a private matter, outside of any professional responsibilities with the Abbie Shelter.


The Abbie Shelter is like a family, and we stand in support of one another in the most trying of times. To be clear, this is a tragedy. Even as the case remains open, our work with any survivor is that of safety and advocacy. It is a reminder of the critical work that we do at the Abbie Shelter: domestic violence can impact anyone, at any time, and even people working in the field are not immune to its effects.


We ask that the community respect the privacy of our staff and allow law enforcement and the judicial system to conduct its work. Abbie Shelter services - including legal advocacy, mental health, and shelter - will continue uninterrupted. Our phones and doors are open to all who need us. www.abbieshelter.org.