AG Letter Confirms No Homicide Charge in New Year’s Day Death
On January 1, 2020 Joshua Paniagua stabbed Benjamin Mousso to death in the bathroom of a restaurant and casino on South Avenue in Missoula.
After investigating the incident, the Missoula Police Department and the Missoula County Attorney’s office determined that there was insufficient evidence to charge Paniagua with the murder of Benjamin Mousso.
In a letter dated August 10, the Attorney General’s office confirmed that determination.
Deputy County Attorney Mac Bloom provided details of the Attorney General’s investigation.
A young man lost his life in a really senseless act of violence, and the investigation was extremely thorough by the Missoula Police Department.
“The Attorney General did look at the case at our request,” said Bloom. “I would just like to start off by saying that this is a horrible tragedy. A young man lost his life in a really senseless act of violence, and the investigation was extremely thorough by the Missoula Police Department. We looked carefully at all of the evidence that was collected, but we're always open to getting a second opinion and if somebody doesn't agree with our legal analysis or sees the case in a different way, we want to know that.”
Bloom praised the thorough investigation by the police department.
“The Missoula Police Department is extremely good at what they do,” he said. “A lot of time and resources went into this case. Detective Guy Baker did a very thorough job, collecting evidence speaking with witnesses, and we obviously take cases like this extremely seriously, and we spent a lot of time on it too. Sending the case up to the Attorney General for a second opinion is something that we wanted to do. We thought having a second set of eyes on it would be would be good and they did look at it and reach the same conclusion that we did.”
Bloom said the incident was a tragedy for all involved.
“I know that the family is really hurting and again, my deepest condolences to the family,” he said. “I know that this is very difficult and this was a very difficult case. It's certainly not one that we've taken lightly or that the police department has taken lightly.”
The Attorney General’s report ends with this statement:
‘We want to emphasize that the critical factor in our opinion here is that the State bears
the burden of proving beyond a reasonable doubt that the force used was not justiﬁed.
There is ample reason in the investigative ﬁle to doubt Paniagua’s story. However,
convincing a jury that Paniagua’s story is doubtful, or even convincing a jury that
Paniagua’s story is “probably not true” will not support a conviction. Rather, the State
must prove that Paniagua’s story was not true, beyond a reasonable doubt. We do not
believe that standard could be met here. Accordingly, we can ﬁnd no fault in Missoula
County for declining to charge Paniagua with deliberate homicide.’
Since the incident on January 1, Paniagua has been charged with other offenses, including assault with a weapon, where on June 8 he allegedly attacked his mother with a hammer, and his bail was set at $50,000 by Justice of the Peace Alex Beal. Paniagua remains in the Missoula County Jail.