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Three men sentenced for Gibson Flats Fire near Great Falls

Gibson Flats Fire near Great Falls (Wednesday, December 1, 2021)
Posted at 1:20 PM, Mar 13, 2023

GREAT FALLS - December 1, 2021, was a tragic day for residents of Gibson Flats as a fire swept across the area in the pre-dawn hours.

The fire destroyed 11 homes, 11 garages, and numerous outbuildings and cars in the neighborhood that adjoins the southeast side of Great Falls.

Gibson Flats Fire near Great Falls (Wednesday, December 1, 2021)
Gibson Flats Fire near Great Falls (Wednesday, December 1, 2021)

Cascade County Sheriff Jesse Slaughter said the fact that no human lives were lost is a "complete miracle."

The three people charged in connection with the fire - Brandon Cordell Bennett, Jr., Jevin James Mclean, and Galvinn Coates Munson - all pleaded guilty in September 2022 and said they take responsibility for what happened, and that they realize the further damage that could've occurred.

On Friday, March 10, 2023, the three were sentenced by Judge John Kutzman. The sentencing for Munson, Bennet, and Mclean are as follows:

Munson: 108 years total to the Montana State Prison with a 20 year parole restriction.

  • Count 1, Arson, 20 years to the Montana State Prison (MSP), not parole eligible for first 20 years.
  • Criminal endangerment counts: 2 years on each of the 44 counts, consecutive with no time suspended = 88 years consecutive for each count.
  • Credit for time served is 458 days (for jail time served to date).

Bennett: 11 years total to the Montana State Prison with all time suspended = 11 years of probation total
Count 1, negligent arson

  • 10 years to the Montana State Prison (MSP), all suspended (10 years of probation)
  • 400 hours community service,
  • serve 180 days at pre-release,
  • Get a chemical dependency evaluation and follow all recommendations.

Count 2, tampering with evidence:

  • 1 year to MSP, all suspended, consecutive,
  • 180 days jail at CCDC,
  • 168 days credit for time served
  • all standard probation conditions

Mclean:
Count 1, negligent arson

  • 10 years to MSP all suspended (10 years of probation),
  • 400 hours community service,
  • 180 days at the pre-release,  
  • Credit for time served 63 days,
  • All standard probation conditions.

The three were also ordered to pay restitution in the amount of $1,760,172.

According to notes released by the court, Munson received the most severe sentence because Munson started the fires; Bennett and McLean did not start the fires.

Munson was on probation at the time of the fires. Bennett and McLean were not.

Munson had a pending felony case (for sexual intercourse without consent) at the time of the fires. The others did not have any pending felony cases.

Munson was out of compliance with probation conditions and court conditions. The others were not.

Munson was found to be at a very high risk of re-offending and would be difficult to supervise safely in the community. The others were not found to be at a high risk of reoffending.

Brandon Cordell Bennett,, Jr. 18; Jevin James Mclean, 19; and Galvinn Coates Munson, 19
Brandon Cordell Bennett,, Jr; Jevin James Mclean; Galvinn Coates Munson

Several of the victims in this case wanted the most severe punishment for Munson, and did not want as severe punishment for Bennett or McLean. Several victims wanted Bennett and McLean to work and pay some restitution.

Before sentencing, people who lost their homes and property were given a chance to address the three and explain how devastating the fire was.

Among those giving statements were Justin Hickman, Greg Mackenstadt, Elizabeth Mackenstadt (spoke on behalf of son Kolby and daughter Paige, who wrote their statements, but were unable to attend), Lynn Chmiel, Michael Hryszko, Davida Hryszko, Dan Sanger, and Barney Cooper.

While some were forgiving, there was some animosity by a few. However, they all came to the conclusion that they were ready to move on.

The three men apologized for their actions. How genuine was the apology? That depends on which Gibson Flats resident you talk to.

There was a point in which Judge Kutzman stated, "It’s amazing to me that you can live in America, obey the law, and have it all taken away by idiots."

During the sentencing, it was revealed that MDMA (methylenedioxymethamphetamine), also known as ecstasy or molly, was used while they were smoking marijuana and shooting fireworks at each other inside the vehicle.

It was agreed by all of the Gibson Flats residents in the courtroom that the defendants should pay restitution.

When speaking with several of the Gibson Flats residents after the sentencing concluded, the prevailing attitude was they were happy the case is over, and appreciative that they don't have to re-live what happened.