Johnathan Bertsch sentencing hearing starts in Missoula

Zoe Buchli

Sentencing began Tuesday morning for an Arlee man who shot and killed two people and wounded two others, including a Montana Highway Patrol trooper, in March 2019.

Johnathan A. Bertsch, 30, pleaded guilty to one count of deliberate homicide and three counts of attempted deliberate homicide in June 2020. Both are felony charges. A deliberate homicide charge carries a maximum sentence of life in prison.

In March 2019, Bertsch fired several shots at a pickup truck just west of Missoula which was carrying three people — Shelley Hays, Julie Blanchard and Casey Blanchard, Julie’s son. Hays and Julie both died, and Casey survived after being shot eight times.

Thirty-seven casings were recovered from the initial shooting scene. Julie passed months after the shooting from complications from her gunshot wounds and Hays died at the scene. Bertsch had no prior relationship with the victims.

While in pursuit, Montana Highway Patrol Trooper Wade Palmer was shot by Bertsch in his face and neck and ultimately survived his injuries, which were described as life-threatening in court documents.

State prosecution is asking for life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. Defense has not

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