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Day 1: Johnathan Bertsch sentencing hearing recap

Johnathan Bertsch
Johnathan Bertsch Sentencing
Posted at 9:49 AM, Nov 17, 2021
and last updated 2021-11-17 12:04:44-05

MISSOULA — It has been a long road since the night of March 15, 2019, when an incident near Missoula claimed two lives and left two others critically injured.

Another chapter in the killing of Shelley Hays and Julie Blanchard and the recovery of Montana Highway Patrol Trooper Wade Palmer and Casey Blanchard began on Tuesday.

The first shooting occurred on March 14, 2019, when a man shot Hays and wounded Casey Blanchard and his mother Julie along Expressway Boulevard in Missoula. Several hours later, that suspect would ambush Montana Highway Patrol Trooper Wade Palmer after he pulled him over along US Highway 93 in Evaro.

Johnathan Bertsch Sentencing

The suspect — Johnathan Bertsch — was arrested later that night as Trooper Palmer began the fight for his life. That fight would take him to Utah and back home again in May 2019.

However, a month later — in June of 2019 — Julie Blanchard would die from her injuries. But in November of 2019 — despite his near-fatal gunshot wounds — Casey Blanchard returned to work.

That following June Bertsch would change his plea to guilty and one month later Trooper Palmer would retire from the Montana Highway Patrol following an eight-year career.

Bertsch would later undergo two mental health evaluations, ordered in August and October of 2020 respectively before being found fit to proceed with sentencing in March of 2021.

Johnathan Bertsch Sentencing

Emotions were high on the first day of Bertsch's sentencing, which began Tuesday in front of victim Casey Blanchard and Trooper Wade Palmer's wife Lindsey. During this first round, people gave witness impact statements from the former trooper's daughters to the family of Shelley Hays.

"Bertsch's actions that night altered the path that my family was on and has forever altered our lives. Because he chose to shoot people in cold blood with no remorse for his actions whatsoever. During all of the court proceedings I have watched, I have absolutely seen no remorse. I have no doubt that if this person ever gets out of jail, he will do the same to other families. He has handed down a life sentence to each one of these victims in one way or another." - Lindsey Palmer

Lindsey Palmer speaking at Johnathan Bertsch's sentencing hearing

Trooper Palmer's wife Lindsey also asked Judge Shane Vannatta for a life sentence, without the possibility of parole, “he cannot talk verbally, but he did this, which translates to lock him up, throw away the key.”

Victim Casey Blanchard, his fiancé, and brother, also watched the hearing. Additionally, two courtrooms were packed with law enforcement officers and friends and family of the victims.

Prosecutors showed video of the March 2019 incident-including dashcam footage from Bertsch’s car as he followed the victims as well as crime scene photos which are too graphic to show, and the 911 call made by Julie Blanchard.

Johnathan Bertsch dash cam video

Multiple witnesses, including Trooper Palmer's daughters -- and family members of Shelley Hays -- sent written statements, which were read aloud in court.

“The phone call at 5 a.m. and having to explain to my 5-year-old Chloe that a bad guy killed her daddy.”

The mother of Shelley Hayes's daughter spoke, recounting the way she explained the death, “I told her that the bad guy would be in jail forever. I truly hope that he is put away for life so that I am not breaking my promise to her.”

Almost all of the people who spoke on Tuesday asked for life without the possibility of parole. The hearing will continue on Wednesday when a sentence is expected to be given.