NewsCrime and Courts


Man charged with killing 2, seriously wounding MHP trooper will undergo mental health evaluation

Missoula County Courthouse
Posted at 4:59 PM, Aug 31, 2020
and last updated 2020-09-01 18:43:05-04

MISSOULA — The man who is accused of shooting four people -- including a Montana Highway Patrol trooper -- in a March 2018 incident that left two people dead will undergo a mental health evaluation.

After recently pleading guilty, Johnathan Bertsch's father now says his son has autism and didn't understand what was going on in court that day.

Missoula County District Court Judge Shane Vannatta has ordered Johnathan Bertsch to undergo a mental health evaluation.

"I am mindful that the community, victims, law enforcement, have been waiting a long time for some resolution," judge Vannatta said.

Bertsch pleaded guilty in June to one count of deliberate homicide and three counts of attempted deliberate homicide.

Bertsch is charged with killing Shelley Hays and Julie Blanchard. Bertsch also shot an critically injured MHP Trooper Wade Palmer and Casey Blanchard in the March 2018 shootings that took place in Evaro and Missoula.

Court documents show that Bertsch later sent a letter to the court stating he didn’t understand what he was “saying yes to during the court thing” and didn’t understand what was going on.

His father alleged in court that his son suffers a “mental disability alleged to be a neurological condition and autism” and that his lawyers did not fully explain the proceedings or change of plea hearing, according to documents.

Judge Vannatta also said on Monday that he did not want to be hasty or cause any unnecessary delays in sentencing.

A hearing was set for Nov. 19 to discuss the results of the mental health evaluation.

The prosecution and defense said in court on Monday they will work together to find a private mental evaluation expert to expedite the process.