Homophobia a motive for Montana man accused of firing into home, DOJ says

A federal grand jury has indicted a Montana man after he allegedly tried to kill a person, saying he wanted to "get rid of the lesbians [and] gays."

The U.S. Department of Justice said John Russell Howald, 44, of Basin, is charged with violating the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act. In addition to a hate crime, he’s charged with a firearm violation.

Investigators said on March 22,  Howald allegedly fired into a person’s home because of the individual’s perceived sexual orientation. Authorities also allege Howald shouted violent threats and homophobic slurs, saying he wanted to get rid of the LGBTQ+ community, leaving officers to believe Howald wanted to kill the individual.

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Howald is scheduled to be arraigned on June 29 in Great Falls.

If convicted, he faces life in prison on the hate crime charge and a mandatory minimum of 10 years in prison on the firearm charge.

Howald is currently serving a 10-year sentence in Montana State Prison after being convicted on a state charge of criminal endangerment stemming from the same incident, according to Montana Department of Corrections records.

He could not be reached for comment and an attorney for Howald was not listed in court documents.

Howald was sentenced to two years in prison for felony aggravated animal cruelty in 2006, after pleading guilty to shooting a chocolate labrador at a campground near Bernice, decapitating the dog with a chain saw and throwing the severed head into the campsite of the dog’s owners parents.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. This story was reported from Los Angeles.