BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) – A 46-year-old man was arrested in Colorado and charged with homicide in the 1999 drowning death of his wife in southeastern Montana, authorities said Tuesday.
Brian David Laird was arrested Sept. 11 in Fort Collins by agents from the FBI and Montana Division of Criminal Investigation, according to Montana Department of Justice spokesman John Barnes and Colorado law enforcement.
Laird was charged with deliberate homicide in the July 31, 1999, death of 28-year-old Kathryn Laird in Big Horn County. If convicted, he could face the death penalty or life in prison.
The victim’s badly bruised body was found in the Afterbay Reservoir below Yellowtail Dam a day after telling a work colleague that she intended to separate from her husband.
Medical examiners ruled she died from asphyxia by drowning and had unusual bruises to the muscles of her neck. But the manner of death remained undetermined following an autopsy at the time of her death, and it was not clear from the court documents exactly how authorities believe Kathryn Laird was killed.
Investigators got a break in the case in 2012, when an FBI agent came across the names of two people not previously interviewed who had overheard an argument between the couple on the night before Kathryn Laird’s death.
The Lairds had been married just five months, after meeting when both were students at Southern Methodist University in Texas. In 1999, they were living in a trailer court in Fort Smith, Montana. Brian Laird worked as a fishing guide while practicing law part-time in Billings and Kathryn Laird was working several jobs, including one at a fly fishing shop.
Prosecutors described the marriage as troubled, and witnesses including the victim’s mother reported loud arguments in the days before Kathryn Laird’s death, according to charging documents filed in Montana District Court in Big Horn County. That included a “horrible” argument overheard by neighbors on the night before Kathryn Laird’s body was found, prosecutors said.
Brian Laird told the FBI that after their last argument, his wife left their trailer alone in a white Toyota 4-Runner and he never saw her again, according to court documents.
Prosecutors said that claim was refuted by neighbors who saw Brian Laird leaving the couple’s residence in the same vehicle he said his wife had taken. Those neighbors were staying in an RV about 50 feet from the Laird’s trailer but were not interviewed until 2012. That’s when an FBI agent reviewing the case came across a reference to them and decided to follow-up, according to prosecutors.
One of the neighbors, Kathleen Anderson, told the agent that “after hearing the woman yell ‘no, no, no’ the argument ended ‘really quick, it was done.'” Anderson asserted she would have called the police if she had a phone at the trailer.
It could not immediately be determined if Brian Laird had an attorney. He was being held pending extradition at the Larimer County jail in Fort Collins on $500,000 bond.
A Thursday hearing in the case is scheduled in Colorado before Judge Daniel Kaup, according to the court clerk’s office.
An FBI spokesman referred questions to the Montana Division of Criminal Investigation. A court date in Montana will be set when Laird is returned, according to the Big Horn County Clerk of Court’s office.
– By MATTHEW BROWN, Associated Press
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