Edit: An earlier version of this story listed the sentence as 75 years, not taking into account that 10 of those years would run concurrently to the rest of the sentence.
A Cascade County District judge on Monday sentenced a man who killed another man with a hatchet during a 2018 street fight in Great Falls to 65 years in prison.
In September, a jury convicted James Michael Parker, 35, of assault with a weapon, witness tampering and the deliberate homicide of 45-year-old Lloyd Geaudry.
On the homicide charge, Judge Elizabeth Best gave Parker 55 years in prison and ordered him to pay $14,000 in restitution. For assault with a weapon, Parker received 10 years to run consecutively to the homicide sentence. Best gave Parker 10 years for witness tampering, which run concurrently with both of his other sentences.
Parker will receive credit for the more than three and a half years he's spent in the Cascade County Detention Center since his arrest.
Travis Burrow, the Great Falls Police Department detective in charge of the murder investigation, testified for the state about Parker’s previous criminal record, starting when he was 17 years old. He has been convicted of assault with a weapon, sexual assault and unlawful transfer of firearms.
Burrow testified Parker was accused of hitting a person with a skateboard, causing a head injury that required a metal plate in the victim’s head. The sexual assault conviction was the result of a plea agreement on an original charge of rape involving a 13-year-old girl when Parker was 19. A 9-hour standoff with law enforcement led to the weapons charge, Burrow said.
Parker was on supervised release for a previous conviction when he committed the homicide.
Defense attorney Sam Aarab questioned Burrow about Parker’s life and criminal history. Burrow did not have the information to answer many questions regarding the specific circumstances and outcomes of Parker’s cases.
Deputy Cascade County Attorney Jennifer Quick said a member of Geaudry’s family was going to speak but elected not to. Best said she had the man’s victim impact statement and would take it into account.
The state argued for Parker to receive life without parole for the murder, 20 years with 10 suspended for the assault and 10 years for the witness tampering.
Quick said the crime was extremely violent in nature, and Geaudry was a well-liked man who had no stake in the fatal fight. She said Parker was the one who escalated that night’s argument and would not let things go. Geaudry leaves behind a daughter and numerous family members whose lives were significantly affected by his death, according to Quick.
Quick told Best that Parker’s ongoing criminal conduct and longtime propensity for violence means he would be a danger to the community if released.
“This is a defendant who will re-offend,” she said.
Quick also pointed out that Parker’s supervised release did not stop him from substance use, buying a weapon, engaging in a fight and committing murder. She said Parker’s attempts to dispose of evidence and the threats to a witness in the case indicated a lack of remorse for the crime.
Aarab requested the judge give Parker 20 years for the murder and five-year suspended sentences for the other two crimes.
He emphasized Parker’s lifetime of parental noninvolvement, physical and mental abuse and the effects of his frequent incarceration as mitigating factors in the sentencing. He said Parker’s mom was incarcerated when he was eight, and he spent the majority of his life in group homes or behind bars.
Because of his early life, Aarab said, Parker learned to use violence to solve conflict, had poor communication skills and demonstrated poor judgment. He argued that Parker had shown that he was sorry for Geaudry’s death, but he maintains that he did not kill him.
“What James learned through his life is that he’s not valued,” Aarab said. “He learned aggression because it was visited upon him first…We’re not standing here today asking for a second chance. We’re asking for a first chance.”
Parker made a statement to the court before Best pronounced the sentence. He began by offering his condolences to Geaudry’s loved ones. He talked about the things he would miss about Geaudry and how much Geaudry encouraged him to better himself.
Because he was abused as a child, Parker said he swore to himself that he wasn’t going to let anyone threaten him or hurt his family. Being in prison and seeing violence there made him even more afraid and feeling like he needed to “make the first move,” he said.
Parker said he didn’t know why Geaudry was there that night. He said none of them should’ve been there, and he should’ve ignored the conflict instead of feeding into it.
“It just hurts,” Parker said. “I didn’t kill him, but I feel responsible, you know what I mean? Because I brought people with me and stuff.”
Parker told the judge that if he ever gets out of prison, he wants to teach his nephews how to walk away.
Best said the tragedy of the case is deep and wide, and everyone connected has been harmed by it. She said she felt like Geaudry was well-loved, even by Parker and others who were in the fight.
“He has a large extended family. He was thought of as kind, generous and decent to other people in his life. Mr. Geaudry, while he was present at the fight, is apparently one of the few people — if not the only person — who did not participate.”
Best said she took Parker’s past and upbringing into account in sentencing. She also considered that many others in the fight committed crimes and/or brought weapons but were not charged.
However, Best said Parker was on federal probation at the time of the offense and has a history of violent offenses that reflect little regard for the lives of others.
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This article originally appeared on Great Falls Tribune: Great Falls judge sentences man to 65 years for hatchet homicide