BILLINGS – The man charged with killing a former Big Horn County sheriff over the summer has been sentenced to life in prison.
Donald Gray Jr. appeared in Yellowstone County District Court on Friday to learn his fate from Judge Gregory Todd and face the friends and family of former sheriff William Joy.
Gray told the judge he deserved the sentence for carjacking, stabbing to death, then dumping the body of the 81-year-old outside a school. Todd agreed.
Friday in court, the children of the man he murdered spoke about the life of their father. The first to speak to the court was William Joy’s daughter Denise Joy, who is also a Billings City councilwoman.
Denise Joy spoke about the impact the crime has had on the Billings community. She also said she misses her father’s wisdom and advice and that she would regularly look to him for strength and guidance.
“This loss is very difficult. No one expects to lose their father this way,” she said.
She spoke proudly about her father’s legacy in law enforcement and as a volunteer, spending time teaching his faith to those on Crow Agency and to those who were sick at Billings area hospitals.
Yellowstone County Deputy Prosecutor Ed Zink asked the judge for a life sentence. Denise Joy said it was fitting.
“He said there are people in our community that can’t be among us. We can’t have people who can’t respect a human life,” she said. “They need to be removed and the family left behind needs to know there are consequences. This defendant needs to know the consequences.”
William Joy served 25 years in law enforcement, including a four-year stint as Big Horn County sheriff from 1982 to 1986 and Hardin police officer from 1961 to 1977.
William Joy’s oldest son Orrin Joy also echoed his sister’s words and also shared stories of his father’s willingness to help others. He said the death has been the hardest things he’s had to endure. Looking at Gray often, he read aloud from a letter.
“It’s been such a traumatic experience,” said Orrin Joy. “A good man who worked for years to try and prevent people like you from hurting others.”
After the sentence was handed down, Denise Joy said she did feel some relief but believes Gray will never fully comprehend what grief his crime has caused.
“It’s the biggest loss I’ve ever had,” said Denise Joy.
Gray was charged with deliberate homicide and obstructing a peace officer in June of 2018. Police say Gray, a transient from North Carolina, abducted Joy outside of the post office at 724 15th St. W., and stabbed him to death and dumped the body at Lewis and Clark Middle School.
At the time of the murder, Gray had only been in Billings for a week. Court documents state Gray told officers it all started because he was not familiar with Billings, and wanted to find a way back to North Carolina.
Gray was also sentenced to six months for obstruction of justice, to be served concurrently. Gray was also suspected of killing a North Carolina woman and will be sent there for trial.
Zink said if Gray is convicted there, he will still be sent back to Montana to serve the life sentence.
-Samantha Sullivan and Andrea Lutz reporting for MTN News