A Basin, Montana man was convicted by a federal jury on Friday, Feb. 17, 2023, of charges stemming from an incident in March 2020 where he fired an AK-style weapon at the home of an LGBTQ woman in Basin.
John Russell Howald, 46, was found guilty after a four-day trial of hate crime acts and discharge of firearm during and in relation to a crime of violence.
Court records state that on March 22, 2020, Howald sought to rid Basin of its gay and lesbian community. He was armed with three rifles and two pistols when he approached on foot the home of a woman who identified as a lesbian. He fired an assault rifle at her property, with several rounds striking the outside and one round penetrating inside the wall of the home. The woman was home but not struck.
Howald then reportedly proceeded down the street toward the homes of other LGBTQ members of the community and was intercepted by people leaving a church service who attempted to talk him down. Howald continued to fire off rounds and make statements about harming members of Basin's LGBTQ community.
A Jefferson County Sheriff's deputy arrived in response to a 911 call and ordered Howald to put down his weapons. Howald refused and pointed his rifle at the deputy before fleeing on foot, firing at least one round as he ran. He was arrested the next day.
Howald faces a maximum of life imprisonment, a $250,000 fine, and five years of supervised release on the hate crime conviction and a mandatory minimum 10 years to life imprisonment, consecutive to any other sentence, a $250,00 fine, and five years of supervised release on the firearm conviction.
His sentencing is set for June 15 before Chief U.S. District Judge Brian M. Morris. Howald was detained pending further proceedings.
The FBI, ATF and Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office investigated the case.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Ethan R. Plaut for the District of Montana and Trial Attorney Eric N. Peffley of the Civil Rights Division’s Criminal Section prosecuted the case.