GREAT FALLS — A Montana man accused of firing a gun into an individual’s house and threatening the individual with violent, homophobic slurs was arraigned on Tuesday on federal hate crime and firearm charges, Acting U.S. Attorney Leif M. Johnson said.
John Russell Howald, 44, of Basin, pleaded not guilty to an indictment charging him with violating the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act and with the use of a firearm during and in relation to a crime of violence.
The indictment alleges that on March 22, 2020, in Basin, Howald attempted to injure an individual because of their actual and perceived sexual orientation by discharging a firearm into the individual’s house, stating that he wanted to “get rid of the lesbians [and] gays.” The offense included an attempt to kill the individual.
If convicted of the most serious crime, Howald faces up to life in prison on the hate crime charge and a mandatory minimum of 10 years in prison, consecutive to any other sentence, on the firearm charge. A federal district court judge will determine any sentence after considering the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.
U.S. Magistrate Judge John T. Johnston presided. Howald was detained pending further proceedings.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Brendan McCarthy of the District of Montana and Trial Attorney Eric Peffley of Civil Rights Division’s Criminal Section are prosecuting the case. The FBI, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, and Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office investigated the case.
An indictment is merely an allegation and the defendant is presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.