APPEAL FROM: District Court of the Twelfth Judicial District, In and For the County of Chouteau, Cause No. DC 10-08 Honorable Dirk M. Sandefur, Presiding Judge
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Jim Rice
Submitted on Briefs: June 6, 2012
Justice Jim Rice delivered the Opinion of the Court.
¶1 A jury convicted Daniel John Paulsrud (Paulsrud) of deliberate homicide with a dangerous weapon on March 16, 2011. The Twelfth Judicial District Court, Chouteau County, sentenced Paulsrud to 110 years in the Montana State Prison without the possibility of parole. Paulsrud challenges the parole restriction, requesting that his sentence be vacated. We affirm.
¶2 We consider the following issues on appeal:
¶3 1. Did the District Court impose an illegal sentence by restricting the Defendant's eligibility for parole?
¶4 2. Does a life sentence without parole based on the nature of the crime constitute cruel and unusual punishment?
FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND
¶5 The Chouteau County Attorney charged Paulsrud with deliberate homicide with a dangerous weapon for the death of his girlfriend Leslie Davidson in an incident that took place on Thanksgiving Day, November 26, 2009. Paulsrud and Davidson had a turbulent six-year relationship in which Paulsrud threatened to kill Davidson and himself in a murder-suicide patterned after Davidson's biological parents' deaths. Davidson attempted to get out of the relationship several times because Paulsrud was physically abusive and controlling, traits that were triggered when he drank excessively.
¶6 After receiving a call from a citizen, Fort Benton Police Chief John Turner found Paulsrud on his hands and knees on the street outside the apartment complex where he was living. Paulsrud had a self-inflicted gunshot wound to his face and jaw and could not talk. He pantomimed shooting himself under the chin and likewise indicated he had shot another person who was still inside the building. Turner found Davidson's lifeless body inside the apartment with a bullet wound to the chest. Davidson still had her glasses on and her hands in her pockets. Evidence at trial revealed that Paulsrud shot Davidson with a .357 revolver. A jury convicted Paulsrud of deliberate homicide by use of a firearm.
¶7 At sentencing, the State recommended that Paulsrud be sentenced to 100 years in the Montana State Prison for deliberate homicide, plus 10 years for the use of a dangerous weapon, to run consecutively, and that Paulsrud's parole eligibility be restricted. Paulsrud argued against the parole restriction, recommending a sentence of 70 years, plus 10 years for the weapons enhancement, with 20 years suspended. Before imposing the sentence, the District Court reflected that there was no clear reason Paulsrud couldn't be rehabilitated, but that his conduct had been "egregious" with "no justification, whatsoever" and no mitigating circumstance. "You used a larger caliber handgun and purposely or knowingly pointed it at her. And without warning or provocation, you literally blew her away, needlessly and reprehensibly, snuffing out her life." Pronouncing the sentence, the court found that it was: necessary, appropriate, and just to hold you accountable for the horrendous crime that you've committed here. And I think that that is ...