HELENA — The man who pleaded guilty to negligent homicide last month in the death of a Helena doctor will spend time in prison.
On Wednesday morning, Lewis and Clark County District Court Judge Mike McMahon sentenced Gregg Trude to a term of 20 years in prison. Trude will serve just under 3 ½ years, with the rest of the time suspended. McMahon said he will not be eligible for parole until after that time is served.
Trude, 63, pleaded guilty last month, during his trial in the 2018 death of 48-year-old Dr. Eugene “Buzz” Walton.
The sentence drew emotional reactions from Walton and Trude’s family members, sitting in the courtroom.
In October 2018, Trude and Walton were at the former Kmart parking lot in Helena, after returning from a hunting trip. Walton was pulling his rifle out of the back seat of Trude’s truck, when Trude’s rifle went off. Walton was struck near the top of his thigh. First responders gave him medical assistance, but he did not survive.
Trude, who spent several years as a hunting safety instructors, admitted at trial that he had been negligent to put his gun into his truck with a live round in the chamber, and that his actions had led to Walton’s death.
On Wednesday, Walton’s wife, Leslie, and two of his sisters testified about the effect his death has had on them.
Leslie Walton said going through the trial process had forced her to relive the worst day of her life. She said she believed Trude had still not been fully open about what happened that day.
“In the end, it all comes down to choices, and we all know that you made a bad choice that day,” she said. “And no one would choose to live the life that you have given me.”
Trude’s family members, including his daughter, mother and girlfriend, testified that he was a man of good character, with a history of helping others, and that he had shown remorse for his actions.
After that, Trude himself spoke. He said he wished he could change what happened, and he apologized to Walton’s family.
“I am so sorry that this accident happened,” he said. “Every day, I bear the burden of it, every single day.”
Trude’s attorneys asked that he not be incarcerated, saying he was at a low risk to reoffend, and that supervision outside prison would be sufficient for him.
McMahon said he believed this sentence was the best way to balance Trude’s rehabilitation, appropriate punishment, and deterring others from negligent actions. However, he agreed that Trude will have to live with the burden of that day.
“There’s no sentence which can be imposed upon you which will eradicate the memory, the guilt, the regret, the depression, you will forever live for causing Dr. Walton’s death,” he said. “This is a life sentence that you have directly imposed upon yourself.”
The judge held off on determining any restitution Trude will need to pay. That is set to be decided at a hearing on November 25.
At trial, Trude was found not guilty of a second charge of Tampering with Evidence.
He previously ran for Montana House Dist. 75 where he was defeated in the June 2018 primary. On his LinkedIn page he listed himself as an NRA rifle and handgun instructor and a member of the National Right to Life board of directors.