New details lessen chances of leniency in casino robbery sentencing
Havre Daily News/Zach White
Merrill Gray, seated on the right, and his attorney Randy Randolph, both in the foreground, listen with Judge E. Wayne Phillips, seen on the TV screen by webcam from Lewistown, to Probation Officer Katie Kuhr, at left in background, talk about her recommendation for Gray's punishment for holding up a casino at knife-point in October 2010.
Punishment has been delayed for Merrill Gray, who pleaded guilty to assault with a weapon and theft after a casino robbery in October 2010.
Judge E. Wayne Phillips of Lewistown granted a delay of Monday afternoon's sentencing after Hill County Attorney Gina Dahl's questioning of Probation Officer Katie Kuhr caused Kuhr to rethink her recommendation.
Going into the sentencing, Kuhr was recommending a deferred imposition of sentence for Gray and the defense was ready to accept it.
Dahl was not as willing to accept the recommendation.
She asked Kuhr about a number of pieces of Gray's history and how much concern they raised.
She asked about Gray's education level — all of high school and some college — and his history in the military and in law enforcement on Fort Belknap and Rocky Boy's Indian reservations.
She asked about how well-prepared she believed Gray's crime to have been, including wearing socks over his shoes to hide footprints.
She asked about Gray's alcohol use, including two recorded instances of Gray being caught drinking, a violation of his conditions of release.
Kuhr said she was somewhat concerned about those factors, but what made her rethink her initial recommendation was a series of questions from Dahl about Gray's gambling habits.
Gray had told Kuhr that he only gambled in occasional small card games with friends.
Dahl showed Kuhr a record of Gray's Player's Club log at one casino in town that police had gathered for their investigation.
The log showed Gray visiting this casino several times a month, in each month leading up to the robbery, including more than seven hours recorded in one day.
That exposed lie broke Kuhr's confidence in her initial recommendation.
The defense, who were preparing to accept Kuhr's recommendation, were unprepared for this lack of confidence.
Defense attorney Randy Randolph requested the sentencing be postponed until Kuhr re-evaluates her recommendation so that he could work from one based on her new feelings.
Dahl objected, arguing that Randolph should have been prepared as this sort of discussion was just what that hearing was about.
Judge Phillips understood Dahl's objection, but decided to allow "a degree of fairness" by giving Kuhr a week to rethink her recommendation and another week for the defense to work with this "substantive difference. "
The new sentencing is scheduled for May 21 at 11 a. m.