By Crystal Thompson
Yvonne Demontiney's life has been in turmoil since the shooting death of her son at the hands of her nephew.
Her husband suffered a stroke. She's had to stop working because of the strain of her family's problems. She stays at home and cares for her husband.
For all her loss, Yvonne Demontiney stays in daily contact with her nephew Lionel Demontiney, convicted by a jury two weeks ago in the slaying of her son, Bryan Gopher. She believes, as she said other family members do, that the shooting resulted from a struggle over a gun and not from any intent to kill.
"It was just Bryan's time to go," she said. "It is my Native American belief that when the Lord feels like it's your time, it's your time."
Gopher was shot to death the evening of Nov. 22 in the parking lot of Havre's Holiday Village Shopping Center. A jury in Havre's 12th Judicial Court convicted Lionel Demontiney of mitigated deliberate homicide in the shooting, a verdict that means Lionel deliberately killed his cousin while under great emotional stress. Yvonne and several family members were present at the hearing to show their support for Lionel.
Yvonne said her son and nephew grew up together and were very much like brothers. Lionel lived with her family off and on since he was an infant. Yvonne is the mother of five boys.
"I never taught any of my children violence," Yvonne Demontiney said, "I tried to teach them the best values."
She said she was adamant about raising her children to be self-sufficient; she said that she taught them not to depend on the reservation.
"I took them off the reservation until they became men," she said.
Demontiney said she's angry about news reports after the shooting that mentioned sexual molestation charges that had been filed about a year earlier against her son. She said they failed to mention that Bryan was a Chippewa Cree tribal officer and a former member of the military, and instead, concentrated on charges that were never brought to trial.
The sexual molestation charges filed in December 1999 destroyed Bryan's career and ultimately, his life, she said.
"(Bryan) lived in depression ... his whole morality was down to nothing," she said.
Demontiney said Bryan was suspended without pay from his officer position before the charges were even filed. He later received back pay from the tribe after an appeal was made to the tribal council.
Demontiney said that she is upset Bryan was not brought to trial in the 13 months between the time the molestation charges were filed and the time of his death. She said she believes her son would have been found innocent and she questions how Hill County's court system works.
"Why did it take only six months for Lionel to go to trial and Bryan was still waiting after 13 months?" Demontiney said.
She watched her son turn to drinking soon after the charges were filed. She said she saw Bryan's personality and self-esteem dwindle, and her motherly instinct told her something bad was bound to happen.
According to court documents, Lionel, Bryan and another cousin, Joe Demontiney III, had been drinking on the day of the shooting. The three were in Joe's pickup truck when they drove to the mall parking lot.
Court documents say an argument between Lionel and Bryan escalated until Bryan pulled a 9 mm handgun from the waistband of his pants and pointed it at Lionel. The two men wrestled over the gun until Lionel retrieved it and placed it back in the vehicle. The argument continued, the documents say, when Bryan struck Lionel in the face and Lionel got the gun and put a bullet into the chamber.
Yvonne said Lionel has told her he does not know how the gun ended up firing, but that it was during a struggle and was not intentional. Demontiney said that she believes her nephew. She said she thinks Joe Demontiney III should have done something to stop the fight.
She said that she is happy with the work done by defense attorney Carl White and thinks he did the best he could under the circumstances. She maintains that the trial was unfair because there were no Native Americans on the jury.
"Lionel never had a chance," she said, "It was like a mouse being thrown into a cat pen."
Lionel Demontiney is currenly free on bail pending sentencing set for July 24.