An aging transient who stabbed a Poverello Center worker in 2010 saw five years of his sentence suspended last week in Missoula County District Court.
Last year, the Montana Supreme Court ordered that John Briscoe be resentenced because Judge Karen Townsend based his original 20-year prison term in part on his lack of remorse.
The problem with that, according to the state’s high court, was that Townsend didn’t specifically reference Briscoe’s statements – “I meant to kill him,” among others – when she sentenced him nearly two years ago.
Briscoe originally was charged with attempted deliberate homicide in the case, but was convicted of assault with a weapon.
At Briscoe’s second sentencing hearing on Thursday, his attorney asked that Briscoe, now 75, be penalized only with the more than 2 1/2 years he’s already served. He recommended that Townsend suspend the rest of Briscoe’s sentence.
“He’s an old man,” said William Boggs. “… I’d like him to have one more chance.”
But Assistant Chief Deputy County Attorney Suzy Boylan asked Townsend to stick with the original 20-year sentence, saying that “the only thing that kept the victim from being seriously harmed was that the victim was a little more spry than the defendant.”
The victim needed three stitches to repair a stab wound in his back.
Boylan also read a transcript of some of Briscoe’s obscenity-laced statements after the arrests, including “the (expletive) doesn’t deserve to live.”
Briscoe went to the Poverello Center on June 28, 2010, seeking a shower after soiling his pants. But a worker there refused to let him in because Briscoe was drunk. He’d begun his day by drinking two-thirds of a quart of vodka and three or four beers, according to court documents. A breath test showed a blood alcohol level of .166, more than twice the legal driving limit.
After being turned away from the Pov, Briscoe returned and stabbed the man, according to court records.
Much of Thursday’s hearing focused on Briscoe’s alcoholism, as well as a nine-year stretch of sobriety when he lived in Chippewa Falls, Wisc., and worked at an alcohol treatment center.
There, he had a reputation as a compassionate man and hard worker, who’d be welcome to return to his former line of work there, according to testimony presented at the hearing.
His belligerence at the Poverello Center was an alcohol-fueled aberration, Boggs said, featuring “things that were said by a drunken man … (who’d) reached absolute bottom.”
Briscoe himself told Townsend that “I am an alcoholic. Alcohol has run through my life.”
Boylan said the true aberration comprised Biscoe’s nine sober years in Wisconsin, pointing out that even when incarcerated, Briscoe was caught this past September drinking “pruno,” an alcoholic jailhouse concoction.
Townsend pointed out that nowhere in Briscoe’s presentence report does he say he’s sorry.
Psychologist Janet Allison, who interviewed Briscoe extensively, testified that “he felt very bad about himself” because of the incident.
“Is that not another way of saying he’s sorry he got caught?” Townsend queried.
She again sentenced Briscoe to 20 years in prison, but this time suspended five years.
Missoulian reporter Gwen Florio can be reached at 523-5268, email@example.com, or @CopsAndCourts.