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Judge awards $500,000 in Mitchell vs. Callen case

| June 16, 2004 12:00 AM

By Brent Shrum, Western News Reporter

A judge has awarded more than $500,000 in damages to a Libby woman who accused her ex-husband of conspiring with another woman to attack her in her home in early 2002.

In a civil suit, Stacy Mitchell charged ex-husband Mark Callen of soliciting the attack that left her physically and mentally unable to continue her employment as manager of Aitken¹s Quik Stop south of Libby.

The attacker, Sandra Ice, pleaded guilty in December 2002 to aggravated burglary in exchange for the dismissal of additional charges of attempted homicide and assault with a weapon. She was sentenced to 20 years in prison with 10 years suspended. Callen has not been charged with any criminal offense connected with the attack.

The civil case was initially scheduled for a non-jury trial before Judge Richard Simonton of Glendive last October. Due to a scheduling error, neither Callen nor his attorney showed for the trial. The judge allowed Mitchell and her attorney, Bill Douglas, to present their case but later scheduled a new trial for April 8.

Ice was employed as a lab technician at St. John¹s Lutheran Hospital, where Callen worked with computers. She admitted to attacking Mitchell and said Callen had wanted her to get a blood sample because he suspected Mitchell was pregnant and using drugs. Mitchell identified the baseball bat and knife Ice used in the attack as belonging to her son and her ex-husband, respectively.

In her court testimony, Mitchell said Ice told her during the attack that she was going to kill her and that Callen had sent her. Mitchell and Ice fought for some time, and Mitchell suffered injuries to her hands from grabbing the knife. She eventually escaped from Ice and locked herself in a bathroom. Ice fled and was arrested a short time later when police pulled her vehicle over after she drove by the scene.

Simonton wrote in his judgment that while it was not his function to determine whether sufficient evidence existed to hold Callen criminally responsible along with Ice, there was clear and convincing evidence that he was involved in the attack and should be held liable for damages in the civil suit.

³While the defendant may not have known exactly what Ice was planning, and while his intentions may have been simply to secure a blood sample, the defendant supplied the means by which Ice caused the plaintiff¹s injuries,² Simonton wrote.

Mitchell had asked for $350,000 in compensatory damages and three times that amount — $1,050,000 — in punitive damages. Simonton awarded $500,000 in damages to compensate for pain and suffering, loss of normal course of living, emotional distress and impaired earning capacity along with another $12,509.69 to reimburse the Montana Crime Victims Compensation Fund for money already paid to Mitchell and $300 for property damage. He wrote in his judgment that the only thing precluding an award of punitive damages was the lack of required financial information on Callen.