Shane Clark Johnson pleaded not guilty Wednesday to the murder charge stemming from the shooting death of his brother. The judge said he will consider allowing the parents of both men visit the defendant.
"They already lost one son, and now they feel like they are losing another" due to a no-contact order, said Johnson's attorney, Public Defender Tom Schoenleben.
Johnson, born in 1968, is in the Hill County Detention Center on $500,000 bond awaiting trial on the deliberate homicide charge in the death of his brother, Travis Johnson, 43.
State District Court Judge Dan Boucher set an omnibus hearing, which generally includes scheduling a trial date, for Jan. 13.
Hill County Attorney Gina Dahl said the state has a large amount of evidence to analyze, and that she is not sure if any of that analysis will be concluded by Jan. 13, but agreed to try to use that as the date for the hearing.
Schoenleben asked Boucher to modify conditions on the warrant for Johnson's arrest to allow the parents of both men, Donna Biem, their mother, and Robert Biem, their stepfather, to visit Shane Johnson. He said the state has listed the Biems as witnesses and and standard procedures prohibit the defendant from talking to witnesses.
Donna Biem called for an ambulance when the two, returning home from going out for dinner, found Travis Johnson Nov. 9 lying near the bottom of the stairs in their residence on the 700 Block of 2nd Avenue.
Travis and Shane Johnson each had a bedroom in the basement of the residence.
But, Schoenleben said, the Biems were not present at the time of the incident, and already have given statements to the police. He asked that they be allowed to talk to Shane Johnson while awaiting resolution of the case.
Dahl said the state would object to allowing witnesses to contact a defendant, but would abide to any order of the court.
Boucher said that if Schoenleben could provide confirmation that the Biems want to talk to Shane Johnson, he would consider that with the stipulation that they do not speak about the case.
Johnson was charged after his brother died at Northern Montana Hospital after he was found in the residence Nov. 9.
Shane Johnson told investigating police officers that "it was self-defense" and also that the gun went off when his brother threw him down the stairs, a charging document says. He later said that Travis Johnson had followed him downstairs and "would not stop," the document says.
Shane Johnson was released by the state Department of Corrections in 2012 after serving out sentences on two previous sets of charges.
Early last decade, he pleaded guilty in a plea agreement to charges that he robbed an 81-year-old woman, stealing and selling or attempting to sell rare coins and attempting to cash stolen checks. As part of the plea agreement, a charge that he raped the woman, who hired him to do odd jobs for her, was dropped.
A jury found Johnson not guilty of charges filed in 2004 that he had sex with a 7-year-old relative. He pleaded guilty to a 2005 charge that he threatened the Hill County deputy attorney who filed those charges.
In 2009, state District Judge John McKeon revoked the remaining suspended sentences in those cases and resentenced Johnson to prison after finding that he had violated conditions of his parole including by possessing alcohol, drinking alcohol and going into bars as well as violating traffic laws and being charged with driving under the influence
In the new charges, a medical examiner at the State Crime Lab in Missoula said Travis Johnson had been shot twice, both times with the gun close to his head. One bullet creased his scalp, while the other entered his cheek and then went into his brain, causing his death, the document says.
About 8 p.m. Nov. 9, Donna Biem called to request law enforcement and an ambulance for her son, who she found unconscious in the basement of the residence with a wound on the left side of his face, the document says.
An investigating officer reported that the location and position of Travis Johnson's body in the basement when found made it unlikely that he had fallen down the stairs, the document says.
After he was transported to the ambulance to be taken to the hospital, the document says, a Havre Fire Department emergency medical technician saw that the wound on his face appeared to be a gunshot wound. Due to the dim lighting in the basement of the residence, that was not noted until Johnson was in the ambulance, the document says.
The charging document describes evidence that gives the appearance of an altercation starting upstairs. Investigating officers found beer cans and signs of what appeared to be a struggle upstairs in the dining room of the residence, including what appeared to be a dinner-plate sized pool of blood on the floor, the document says.
An officer found what appeared to be a trail of drops of blood going from the living room through the kitchen and down the stairs, the document says.
While searching the basement, the officers found Shane Johnson in his bedroom, lying on the bed covered by a comforter, the document says, along with a gun case and a small-caliber handgun magazine. The handgun also was found in his room.
Johnson's nose was injured and apparently had been bleeding. The blood on Johnson all appeared to be dry, the document says.
Havre Daily News/Lindsay Brown
Murder suspect Shane Johnson is escorted into the courtroom Wednesday.
Officers found jackets layered together hanging from the door of Travis Johnson's room with bullet holes through them, and found a spent .22 caliber slug on the floor near near the door. The fabric of the Pittsburgh Steeler sweatshirt on top of the layer of jackets appeared to have been heated as if a gun had been fired at close range, the document says. Officers were unable to find a shell casing in the room.
The officers also found evidence of shots being fired from within Shane Johnson's room, with one bullet apparently going through the doorjamb and trim and going into the hallway ceiling and another going straight into the top of the doorjamb, the document says.
An officer found four shell casings in Shane Johnson's room, including one under a folding chair, the document says, adding that it is unclear how all four shell casings ended up his room, as one round would have had to have been fired near Travis Johnson's room.