POLSON – The Lake County sheriff says he disagrees with the Lake County Attorney’s Office over not filing charges against a Pablo man who shot and killed a man in September.

In a press release sent to MTN News, Lake County Sheriff Don Bell said on Oct. 11 his office requested the assistance of the Montana Division of Criminal Investigation (DCI), into the case of the Sept. 16 shooting death of Johnny McKeever by Ryan Black, in Pablo.

The sheriff’s office had previously arrested Black for deliberate homicide.

Court documents say on Sept. 16 McKeever came to Black’s resident in Pablo to confront McKeever’s estranged wife adding that McKeever knew his wife was involved in an extramarital relationship with Black.

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Court documents also say that McKeever banged on the door waking up Black. Black came to the door with a .44 Magnum pistol and confronted McKeever. McKeever struck Black in his right eye but did not have any weapons.

Black told authorities that he fell backward and then the gun went off, striking McKeever.

Sheriff Bell said DCI and the Lake County Sheriff’s Office completed their investigation into the matter and the recommendation of the Lake County Sheriff’s Office to the Lake County Attorney’s Office is to charge Black with negligent homicide.

Sheriff Bell added that the decision is based on crime scene evidence as well as the statements made by Black in the aftermath of the shooting. Sheriff Bell said at no time has Black claimed he acted in self-defense and that for those reasons his office and DCI believe there is probable cause to charge Black with negligent homicide for the death of McKeever.

However, on Tuesday, Lake County Attorney Steve Eschenbacher dismissed all charges against Black, saying the state cannot prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the killing of McKeever was unjustified. But he did say he’ll allow the case to be recharged if new evidence were presented.

Eschenbacher said the standard of proof under the laws applicable in this instance creates a high barrier to criminal prosecution.

The current charges against Black were dismissed without prejudice and may be revisited if new evidence would change the county attorney’s opinion.


MTN’s Melissa Rafferty