UPDATED: Prosecution asks for life without parole for Johnathan Bertsch

Zoe Buchli

Sentencing deliberations began Tuesday 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. Shelley and Julie both died, and Casey survived after being shot eight times.

Thirty-seven casings were recovered from the initial shooting scene. Julie died 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. He ultimately survived his injuries, which were described as life-threatening in court documents.

A Missoula County courtroom was packed at Tuesday’s sentencing hearing. Casey Blanchard was present with

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