Missoula, MT (KGVO-AM News) - 46-year-old John Russell Howald was sentenced late last week in Montana federal court to a possible life sentence and a $250,000 fine for a hate crime and a mandatory 10 years to life sentence, a $250,000 fine on a firearms conviction, after he fired several rounds from an AK-style assault rifle at the home of a woman who identified as a lesbian in the small town of Basin, Montana.

It Happened in a Small Montana Town

KGVO News spoke to U.S. Attorney for the State of Montana Jesse Laslovich in an exclusive interview about the case that garnered national and world headlines.

“Mr. Howald is a longtime resident of Basin, Montana,” began Laslovich. “Basin of course is between Butte and Helena and is a town of approximately 250 people, which is very small even for our purposes here in Montana. He decided on a Sunday morning after consuming quite a bit of alcohol that he was going to in his words ‘try to get rid of gays and lesbians who lived in Basin’.”

The Defendant Fired Several Rounds into the Victim's Home, but she was not Wounded

Laslovich provided more details about the shooting.

“He actually fired approximately seven rounds into a known lesbian couple’s home and but for the heroic approach by three people who were leaving a church service that morning, there could have been dead bodies,” he said. “He was also certainly going to another house that was reputed to be resided in by a gay person.”

A Pastor's Tape Recording Provided Vital Evidence

Most of the evidence in the case came through a fortuitous recording made by a pastor that morning who went to stop Howald, not knowing that his recorder was still operating after the morning church service.

“The pastor records all of his sermons every Sunday and you can hear on the recording that he's greeting members of his congregation as they're leaving,” he said. “This happened right outside of the church on the main road in Basin and of course seeing someone with an AK style rifle you know, standing you know with it strapped around his shoulder and then the husband and wife who are leaving the church in the car and then stopped because they recognized him. The man’s wife had grown up with Mr. Howald and approached him.”

State and national authorities commented on the importance of the case and its successful prosecution here in Montana.

“Importantly, there’s a message to folks here in Montana, that it's just the kind of conduct that we won't tolerate,” he said. “I hope that the message is sent that if someone's going to act on whatever kind of hate they have in their hearts, and it's to the extent it's a violation of the federal civil rights statutes or the criminal statutes, we will pursue those violations aggressively.”

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