District Court Pre-Sentence Hearing for Jonathan Bertsch
On June 26th, 28 year-old Jonathan Bertsch pleaded guilty to shooting one person to death in March of 2019 and critically wounding Montana Highway Patrol Trooper Wade Palmer.
Bertsch appeared in District Court on Monday before Judge Shane Vannata.
Deputy County Attorney Jordan Kilby was the prosecutor and explained the purpose of the hearing which was to determine the defendant's fitness to be sentenced.
“Judge Vannata had appointed a conflict counsel for the defendant and that was because at the hearing prior to yesterday, there was some issue about whether the defendant wanted to withdraw his guilty plea or not,” said Kilby. “His attorneys had said that they could not ethically file that motion when the judge tried to inquire about whether that was the case or not. The defendant was not really able to say so the judge appointed conflict counsel.”
Kilby said the status hearing on Monday was to decide if the defendant was fit to be sentenced for the crimes he admitted to.
“Conflict counsel Andrew Jenks wasn't really able to make a determination about whether defendant wanted to withdraw his plea or not either,” she said. “So we had this status hearing and at the hearing the judge ordered any previous evaluations done of defendant be filed with the court under seal by Wednesday, and also that a fitness evaluation be conducted and so once we review the evaluations, the state will be working with Andrew Jenks, the conflict counsel, to figure out who should do the fitness evaluation.”
Kilby said there are many victims and their families involved in the case that want to put the issue to rest and have Bertsch sentenced to prison.
The law enforcement community, the Missoula community, the victims, in this case, they're all looking toward having this part of the case behind them.
“This case has been going on for almost a year and a half,” she said. “The law enforcement community, the Missoula community, the victims, in this case, they're all looking toward having this part of the case behind them. I don't know what effect it will have on them. The immediate effect though is that this is just going to take a little bit longer, unfortunately.”
At the plea hearing in June, Kilby asked the judge to allow those who want to be in the courtroom at sentencing to be present, but that the courtroom would be packed which would not comply with social distancing guidelines. Judge Vannata said the court would consider a change of venue for Bertsch’s sentencing to accommodate the prosecution’s request.
The incident began with a road rage incident at a local bar that ended with three people being shot, two fatally, and two others gravely wounded. Shelley Hays was killed, and Julie Blanchard eventually died due to complications from her wounds. Kasey Blanchard survived his wounds, but is in a wheelchair. Montana Highway Patrol Trooper Wade Palmer was critically wounded after being shot three times in the head and neck by Bertsch near the Evaro Bar early in the morning of March 15.