By Alan Sorensen
The murder trial of a 17-year-old boy began with jury selection, opening statements and three witnesses Tuesday.
Lionel James Demontiney of Rocky Boy pleaded innocent in December to deliberate homicide in the shooting death of his cousin Bryan Gopher, 24. The teen-ager is being tried as an adult.
Demontiney has admitted shooting Gopher in the chest behind the Havre Holiday Village Shopping Center on Nov. 22, 2000. His lawyers, Carl White and Jeremy Yellin, are arguing that Demontiney used justifiable force in his own defense.
Prosecuting attorneys are Deputy Hill County Attorney Cyndee Faus and Montana Special Attorney General John P. Connor Jr.
Several jury candidates were questioned and removed for various reasons before the final jury was empaneled shortly after 3 p.m. Among those who were excused was a woman who had nonreundable airline tickets for a flight on Friday. Another was a woman whose husband is a minister at Rocky Boy. She said that she and her husband know Demontiney and have prayed with him and his family.
Opening statements by both sides were concluded shortly after 4 p.m., according to court documents and the first witnesses were called after a short recess. Shortly before 5 p.m., court recessed for the day during the testimony of the third witness, a Hill County deputy who was among those investigating the incident.
The police report filed with the charge against Demontiney said that two women discovered Gopher's body when they went behind the mall to relieve themselves. They then drove around to the front of the mall and told two men inside the Gallery Lounge about the body.
An ambulance was called shortly after midnight Nov. 23 and Gopher was pronounced dead. About an hour later, police were notified that the suspected shooter was at his mother's home at Rocky Boy. Demontiney was arrested a short time later.
An alcohol breath test administered shortly before 6 a.m. in Havre reportedly showed no alcohol in his system.
According to court documents, Demontiney and another cousin told police that they drove into Havre and were drinking in a couple of different places during the day with Gopher. They reportedly pulled into the parking lot behind the mall to relieve themselves and an argument between Demontiney and Gopher escalated. Demontiney reportedly had been scolding Gopher for letting his girlfriend boss him around too much.
Gopher allegedly pulled a 9mm handgun from the waistband of his pants and pointed it at Demontiney during the argument.
Investigators said that Demontiney told them he wrestled Gopher for the gun and it went off once into the air. He succeeded in getting the gun from Gopher and put it on the seat of the pickup. When Gopher struck him in the face, Demontiney reportedly told police, he picked the gun up again. He said he moved another bullet into the chamber and the gun discharged. The bullet struck Gopher on the side and traveled through his chest.
The next day, an officer found a full metal jacket bullet believed to have been the bullet that went through Gopher.
It was found in the back entryway to the mall.
Demontiney has been under house arrested at his home in Rocky Boy.
If convicted, Demontiney could be sentenced to either life in prison or between 10 and 100 years in prison. He also faces a $20 prosecution fee, $10 domestic violence fee and $5 surcharge.
The trial is expected to last no longer than four days.