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Montana Man Sentenced for Hate Crime Shooting Spree to Rid Town of Gays and Lesbians

Montana Man Sentenced for Hate Crime Shooting Spree to Rid Town of Gays and Lesbians

Montana Man Sentenced for Hate Crime Shooting Spree to Rid Town of Gays and Lesbians

John Russell Howald had previously served two years in prison for decapitating a neighbor’s dog with a chainsaw.

A Montana man previously convicted for decapitating a family’s dog with a chainsaw was sentenced to a total of 18 years in prison on Wednesday for shooting bullets into a lesbian neighbor’s home in a self-professed attempt to “clean” the town of LGBTQ+ residents.

John Russell Howald, of Basin, was sentenced by Chief U.S. District Judge Brian M. Morris to 10 years in prison for the discharge of a firearm in relation to a violent crime, and eight years in prison for a single count of committing a federal hate crime for the incident that took place on March 22, 2020. In an indication of the seriousness of the crimes, Morris ordered the sentences to be served consecutively rather than concurrently. The jury took only 72 minutes to convict Howald on February 17 following a four-day trial.

“This defendant is being held accountable for his horrific attempted mass shooting against the LGBTQI+ community in a Montana town,” Kristen Clarke, assistant attorney general of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, said in a statement. “Howald set out to rid the town of all LGBTQI+ members by killing them. He shot into the home of a lesbian resident, nearly killing her, with the hope of inspiring similar attacks around the country.”

Prosecutors thanked the town’s residents for preventing a potential mass shooting targeting the LGBTQ+ community.

“Howald fired multiple shots into someone’s home based solely on her sexual orientation and only the heroic and brave actions of residents and law enforcement, as well as some good fortune, prevented a targeted mass shooting,” U.S. Attorney Jesse Laslovich for the District of Montana, said in a statement.

According to court documents, Howald was armed with “two assault rifles, a hunting rifle, two pistols, and multiple high-capacity magazines that were taped together to speed reloading” when he fired 11 rounds from an AK-style weapon into the residence of the first victim, a 71-year-old lesbian who was home taking a shower at the time of the shooting. The jury heard how one bullet pierced the wall of the residence and ricocheted off the kitchen ceiling before becoming lodged in a wall.

“They’ve been a reminder of how lucky I am to have survived,” the unnamed victim told the Boulder-Monitor of the unpatched bullet holes. “I’m grateful.”

As Howald started walking to the homes of others he perceived to be LGBTQ+, he was stopped by churchgoers, including a pastor who unknowingly recorded his interactions with Howald on a device he used to record his sermons.

“The recording captured Howald making statements that he might have killed a lesbian and that he hoped he had, and that he was going to get rid of lesbians and queers in Basin,” the release noted. “The recording also captured Howald firing off several more rounds during his interaction with these individuals.”

Deputies arrived on the scene but were unable to convince Howald to surrender his weapons. He instead fled into the woods where he spent the night. He was taken into custody the following day, still armed with multiple knives and firearms. Authorities also found additional weapons, ammunition, and alcohol in his vehicle and home.

Howald claimed in court he was under great duress because of the pandemic and was particularly distressed by the recent loss of his grandfather. His attorney claimed his client was misunderstood and his actions were taken out of context. Colin M. Stephens claimed Howald was suicidal and had hoped to end his life ended in a shootout with police, and had previously peacefully co-existed with the LGBTQ+ residents in town.

“Whatever this court may think of him, Howald is not Omar Maateen, who killed 49 people and wounded 52 more at a gay nightclub.” Stephens wrote in a June 2 sentencing memorandum to the court. “At his core, Howald is not a crusading bigot, who is hell bent for leather on wiping lesbians from the Earth. The court heard what he said that day, but the context of Howald’s words matter as much as the actions that accompany them.”

In a surprising twist, it was revealed at trial that Howald is gay. He has had multiple gay relationships with other men in the past and was out to his brother at the time of the shooting.

Howard was previously convicted in 2006 of one count of animal cruelty for a 2005 incident at a campground in Montana, according to Law & Crime. In a fit of anger, he shot and killed a family’s pet dog that frequented his property, decapitated it with a chainsaw, then drove back to their site and threw the severed head at the dog’s shocked owners.

“Here is your f*cking dog back,” he reportedly said.

A short time later he reportedly threw a beer bottle at a young boy in the campground and fired a gun in the air after he was confronted by the boy’s father. Witnesses said he appeared intoxicated.

He served two years in jail for the incident.

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