Bertsch sentenced to life in prison without parole, victims get closure

Zoe Buchli

Observers in a Missoula courtroom embraced one another and cried tears of relief when Johnathan Bertsch received a life sentence without the possibility of parole Wednesday afternoon.

Bertsch, 30, was handed four life sentences to be served consecutively in the Montana State Prison.

He had pleaded guilty in 2020 to one count of deliberate homicide and three counts of attempted deliberate homicide for a 2019 shooting just west of Missoula that left two people dead and severely injured two others.

“It’s been a long two years, I feel a big weight lifted off my shoulders,” said Casey Blanchard, who was shot eight times by Bertsch and survived his injuries. 

On March 14, 2019, Bertsch fired several shots at a pickup truck just west of Missoula that was carrying three people — Shelley Hays, Julie Blanchard and Casey Blanchard, Julie’s son. Shelley and Julie both died. While in pursuit, Montana Highway Patrol Trooper Wade Palmer was shot by Bertsch in his face and neck. He ultimately survived his injuries, which were described as life-threatening.

Missoula County District Judge Shane Vannatta delivered a scathing judgement to Bertsch, calling his actions cold-blooded and calculated.

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