A Montana man who fired an AK-style rifle at the home of a lesbian woman and said he wanted to “get rid of” gay people in his small town was sentenced to 18 years in prison Tuesday, prosecutors said.
John Howald, 46, opened fire at the woman’s home in Basin in March 2020 and set off to shoot others before he was interrupted by a sheriff’s deputy, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Montana said in a statement Wednesday.
Howald was shouting anti-gay slurs and said he wanted to “clean” the small community by killing gay and lesbian people, the office said.
No one was injured in the gunfire.
“Only the heroic and brave actions of residents and law enforcement, as well as some good fortune, prevented a targeted mass shooting,” U.S. Attorney Jesse Laslovich said in a statement.
A jury convicted Howald in February of a hate crime and a count that deals with discharging a firearm during a hate crime.
Howald's attorneys sought a sentence of 10 years, which is the mandatory minimum for discharging a firearm during a hate crime.
His attorneys argued in a sentencing memorandum that at the time, Howald had been suffering from emotional trauma, he was very drunk and “he had long struggled with his own sexuality.”
“At his core, Howald is not a crusading bigot, who is hell bent for leather on wiping lesbians from the Earth,” his attorneys wrote. They also said he cried on the stand at trial and is remorseful.
Prosecutors wrote in their sentencing memo that Howald had two assault rifles, a hunting rifle, two pistols and high-capacity magazines that had been taped together for faster reloading on the day of the shooting.
He fired 11 shots into the woman's home and fired five more in the middle of town while arguing with residents who were trying to get him to stop, prosecutors said.
Howald fired at a sheriff’s deputy who responded, “nearly starting a shootout” in town, prosecutors said.
Howald fled into nearby hills and was arrested the next day.
One of the rounds fired at the woman's home almost hit her as she was in the shower, prosecutors said. Howald also said he wanted to start a "revolution" and inspire other attacks, they wrote.
"The offense was a targeted mass shooting that was interrupted," prosecutors said in the memo.
Basin is a community of around 200 people in the western part of Montana, a little more than 20 miles southwest of Helena.