A man currently serving a prison sentence for firing shots into a Basin home in March 2020 has been indicted on a federal hate crime charge and a federal firearm charge for allegedly targeting the victim in that case because of their sexual orientation.
The indictment on May 20 charged Basin resident John Russell Howald, 44, with violating the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, and with use of a firearm during a violent crime. If convicted, Howald faces a maximum of life in prison for the alleged hate crime and a mandatory minimum of 10 years in prison, consecutive with any other sentence, for the firearm charge.
Howald will be arraigned in Great Falls on June 29.
According to a June 2 press release from the U.S. Department of Justice, “Howald attempted to injure an individual because of their actual and perceived sexual orientation by discharging a firearm into the individual’s house, stating that he wanted to ‘get rid of the lesbians [and] gays.’” The indictment alleged that Howald intended to kill the person and had threatened them with homophobic slurs.
Howald was arrested on March 23, 2020, one day after the incident, and charged with 12 felonies. He is currently serving a 10-year sentence in state prison in Deer Lodge for a conviction of criminal endangerment that stemmed from those charges, according to the Montana Department of Corrections.
Reports from the incident indicated that Howald was spotted around noon on March 22, 2020, walking through Basin with multiple firearms, and that he fired at least one of them. When confronted by Jefferson County Sheriff’s Deputy Shaun Gardner, Howald pointed a gun at Gardner, who in turn drew his service weapon but did not fire. Howald fled, and officers arrested him the following afternoon about 4.5 miles from town on Basin Creek Road.
Howald previously served two years in prison for animal cruelty after a 2005 incident in which he shot and decapitated a pet dog that strayed into his campsite near Bernice and then threw the severed head at the dog’s owners, according to news reports from the time.