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Gray gets two years and probation for casino robbery

A Havre man will spend most of two years in state custody, followed by three on probation, for robbing a Havre casino in October 2010, with at least the start of the two years in the Montana State Prison as he awaits progress in another felony case.

Merrill Gray, 34, pleaded for leniency in state District Court in Havre, saying he has realized that "before all of this transpired" that he had taken his life and the lives and love of his family for granted, and made an apology, especially to his son, who was not at the sentencing hearing.

"I basically threw all of that in the faces of everybody that I loved, " he said.

Gray was charged in November 2010 of robbing a Havre casino at knifepoint, wearing a ski mask over his face and socks over his shoes.

Monday's sentencing took place after the probation officer making a sentencing recommendation viewed new information brought to her attention at and after the first sentencing hearing April 23 — including that Gray was arrested the early morning of April 25 for drinking at a house party that included two underage women, 18 and 19.

Probation Officer Katie Kuhr changed her April 23 recommendation for a deferred imposition of sentence to a recommendation of five years with two suspended.

Randy Randolph, Gray's attorney, asked for a deferred imposition of sentence, which would have cleared Gray's record if he did not violate conditions of his release during the probationary period.

But Judge E. Wayne Phillips of Lewistown, who has jurisdiction in the case and appeared via Vision-Net, said the circumstances call for more than a deferred or suspended sentence.

"There's a lot of grave concerns here, " he said before pronouncing the sentence.

Phillips sentenced Gray to five years with the state Department of Corrections with three suspended, and ordered him to pay $712.42 in restitution and court fees and surcharges. He sentenced Gray to six months in jail, all suspended, to run at the same time, and credited Gray with 33 days served.

Gray pleaded no contest, meaning he did not admit to committing the crime but admitted he could not win the case, in a plea agreement in January. Under the agreement the charges of robbery, a felony, and a misdemeanor count of theft were amended to felony assault with a weapon and the misdemeanor theft.

A new case was filed the beginning of this month alleging that between May 21 and June 3, 2010, before the robbery took place, Gray wrote 14 $100 checks at two Havre casinos knowing he did not have funds to cover those checks. That case still is pending.

Hill County Attorney Gina Dahl asked for 10 years with five suspended, citing premeditation and the violent nature of the robbery as well as Gray's behavior while out on bail.

"This is an offense that is about as bad as it gets, " she said about the robbery, adding that Gray and the patrons and employees of the casino are lucky that he and no one else was injured or killed.

Gray admitted in March 2011 to violating conditions of his release for drinking at a bar and casino, and was cited for curfew violation in another petition to revoke his release, as well as his being cited for drinking and violating curfew April 25.

Kuhr said she also was concerned about what she called his deceit when she interviewed him before making her original sentencing recommendation. He failed to tell her of his gambling at local casinos, she said.

That deceit, as well as a potential problem with alcohol and possible addiction to gambling, would make local supervision under a suspended or deferred imposition of sentence inappropriate until those problems are addressed in a treatment program, Kuhr said.

"Community supervision requires … honesty and the ability to work with their probation officer, " she said.

Phillips also commented on Gray's not being open with Kuhr in the interviews, and his continued actions as the case proceeded.

"I'm also very concerned about the lack of candor with the probation officer, the lack of honesty, as the probation officer states it, the lack of self-honesty, " Philiips said. "That's really what bothers the court the most, is the lack of self-honesty. "


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