GREAT FALLS — A federal grand jury in Billings returned an indictment on May 20 charging John Russell Howald of Basin with hate crime and firearm violations for allegedly firing a gun into a person's house and threatening the person with violent and homophobic slurs.
Howald is charged with violating the Matthew Shepard & James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, and with the use of a firearm during and in relation to a crime of violence. The indictment alleges that on March 22, 2020, in Basin in Jefferson County, Howald tried to injure a person because of the peron's actual and perceived sexual orientation by discharging a firearm into the person's house, stating that he wanted to “get rid of the lesbians [and] gays.”
The offense included an attempt to kill the individual, according to court documents.
Howald, 44 years old, is scheduled for an arraignment in Great Falls on June 29 before a U.S. Magistrate Judge.
If convicted, Howald faces up to life in prison on the hate crime charge and a mandatory minimum of 10 years in prison, consecutive to any other sentence, on the firearm charge. A federal district court judge will determine any sentence after considering the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.
According to the Montana Department of Corrections, Howald has state felony convictions in Jefferson County for criminal endangerment (February 2021) and cruelty to animals (July 2006).
Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division and Acting U.S. Attorney Leif M. Johnson of the District of Montana made the announcement. Assistant U.S. Attorney Brendan McCarthy of the District of Montana and Trial Attorney Eric Peffley of Civil Rights Division’s Criminal Section are prosecuting the case. The FBI, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, and Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office investigated the case.
The federal indictment is merely an allegation and Howald is presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.