New details emerge in Fallon homicide of Isaac Carrier

HUNTER HERBAUGH APG Montana

Defendants in the homicide case of Fallon resident Isaac Carrier made their initial appearances in court.

Appearing at the Dawson County Courthouse in Glendive in front of Seventh Judicial District Court Judge Olivia Rieger, co-defendants Sterling Brown and Jake Burghduff pleaded not guilty to charges stemming from Carrier’s death on Jan. 23.

Burghduff has been charged with one count of arson and one count of fabricating or tampering with physical evidence, both felony, in relation to the fire that destroyed Carrier’s apartment. Meanwhile, Brown has been charged with one count of deliberate homicide with a dangerous weapon and one count of arson, both felony.

The case is being prosecuted by the Prairie County Attorney’s Office and the Attorney General’s Office. Discovery in the case is still ongoing, according to assistant attorney general’s special deputy Dan Gee.

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A person convicted of deliberate homicide faces a maximum sentence of up to life in the Montana State Prison, or a term of no more than 100 years. If convicted of deliberate homicide with a weapons enhancement, the convicted person faces a possible minimum sentence of no less than two years.

A person convicted of arson faces a maximum possible sentence of no more than 20 years in the state prison.

A person convicted of fabricating or tampering with physical evidence may face a maximum sentence of no more than 10 in state prison.

Burghduff and Brown are currently being held at the Dawson County Correctional Facility. Brown is being held on a $1 million bond while Burghduff is being held on an approximately $250,000 bond, according to Dawson County records.

According to court documents, emergency responders received notification of a fire at a four-unit apartment structure on Whittier Avenue in Fallon at approximately 11:45 pm on Jan. 23. During the fire marshal’s investigation, evidence of an accelerant was found at the property and it was determined there were three different points of origin for the fire.

The incident was initially investigated by the state fire marshal’s office and the Prairie County Sheriff’s Office until evidence of criminal activity was discovered and the Montana Division of Criminal Investigation was called to assist in the case.

Interviews with other residents of the apartment building were conducted on Jan. 27. Two of the Carrier’s neighbors reported hearing commotion starting somewhere between 11 pm and 11:15 pm followed by a loud bang about 15 minutes before they became aware of the fire.

Investigators discovered that Carrier was involved in a “high-conflict” custody battle with his ex-wife, Katie Bivens, a former agriculture instructor at Dawson Community College, according to court documents.

DCI agents interviewed both Bivens and Brown on Jan. 31. When asked about their whereabouts on the night Carrier was killed, Bivens stated she was at home having an argument with her mother, who was visiting at the time, about an upcoming custody hearing. Brown said he was frustrated with the ongoing argument so he left for Ludlow, South Dakota to meet up with Burghduff at a bar.

Brown said he and Burghduff spent most of the night driving around and drinking, passing through multiple communities in Southeast Montana, Northwest South Dakota and Southwest North Dakota, but denied they traveled to Fallon. He returned home at approximately 4 am the next morning.

Court documents state that Brown and Carrier had previous contact with each other, usually during custody exchanges for Carrier and Biven’s young son. Court documents also note that an altercation between the two turned violent during the Bucking Horse Sale in Miles City in the spring of 2022 when Brown confronted Carrier, accusing him of being the cause of the mental health challenges Bivens was facing.

During the interview, Brown admitted to knowing where the Carrier lived and said he had driven past his residence a week before Carrier’s death. He denied ever being in the apartment.

Following the interview with Brown, DCI investigators arranged an interview with Burghduff on Feb. 7. During the interview, Burghduff said that Brown appeared to be frustrated at the possibility he and Bivens may lose custody of her child. Throughout his explanation, investigators noted several inconsistencies between Brown’s telling of events and his recollection, including the route they traveled and stops they made the night carrier was killed, according to court documents.

When confronted with the inconsistencies, court documents say Burghduff admitted that he and Brown drove to Fallon on Jan. 23, that Brown had a loaded handgun, that they bought gasoline and that he suspected they were going to the Carrier’s residence, though he denied knowing what Brown intended to do. Burghduff also said that prior to the two meeting up, Brown requested he bring a pair of his shoes for Brown to use, which was confirmed in a text message shown to investigators.

Once they arrived in Fallon, Burghduff said they parked about one block from Carrier’s apartment and Brown got out, grabbed the gas and walked up the road, according to court documents. Burghduff reported that Brown returned approximately 20 minutes later and they returned to Brown’s residence in Camp Crook where Brown changed clothes and swapped vehicles before driving back to the bar in Ludlow.

Omnibus hearings for both Brown and Brown will be held on April 11. A bail hearing for Brown is scheduled for the same day while a bail hearing for Burghduff was last week.

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For both defendants, a jury confirmation hearing is tentatively scheduled for July 11, a final pre-trial hearing is tentatively scheduled for Aug. 17 and a jury trial is tentatively scheduled for Aug. 21 to Aug. 25.

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