HAMILTON - A man who broke into a handful of Hamilton businesses was sentenced in Ravalli County District Court on Thursday to 25 years in prison with 15 years suspended.

District Judge James Haynes sentenced James Layton Hurt, 42, on four counts of felony burglary and one count of drug possession. Hurt also will have to pay more than $900 in restitution to his victims.

In early March, Hurt broke into and stole from four Hamilton businesses, including the Gas-N-Grub Store, the Kodiak Jax II restaurant, the Marcus Salon and The Kitchen restaurant. According to court records, he was arrested after detectives spotted tools, such as bolt cutters, sitting in his car that could have been used during the break-ins.

The car had been parked for several days in the area of the break-ins. Hurt told officers he and his girlfriend had arrived from Washington two weeks earlier and were on their way to stay with his brother-in-law in Clinton.

After Hurt was arrested, officers who searched him found methamphetamine.

Hurt was initially charged with several other crimes, including theft and criminal mischief, but those counts were dropped in the plea agreement reached between the county attorney and Nicholas Miller, Hurt's public defender.

Miller is still convalescing after a December automobile crash, so Ronald Piper represented Hurt on Thursday when Deputy Ravalli County Attorney Ryan Weldon said the restitution would increase from $200 to more than $900 after talking to other victims. Haynes asked Hurt if he wanted to delay the sentencing to reconsider, but Hurt didn't balk at the increase.

Weldon said each felony had a maximum penalty of five years, but he requested that the sentences run consecutively.

"This way, Hurt will be 67 years old when his probation ends," Weldon said. "He said that drugs were the driving reason behind the burglaries, but based upon his history of property crimes, that may not be the case."

Hurt's run-ins with the law began in 1988 and include 13 convictions for property and drug crimes. The latest case of possession of stolen property occurred in 2010 in Seattle.

Piper argued drug addiction was Hurt's driving motivation. Both Piper and Hurt requested that Haynes write a recommendation for Hurt to attend the Department of Corrections' Nexus methamphetamine treatment program.

"My addiction has become unmanageable," Hurt told the court. "Attending Nexus will give me a greater chance of success transitioning back into the community."

Haynes wasn't so sure. He said he considered giving Hurt a longer sentence so he'd be on probation the rest of his life. As it is, if Hurt appears in Haynes' court again in the next 25 years, Haynes threatened to give him the remaining 15 years in prison with no credit for any time served.

"You started your crimes in Washington, and now you're looking to the citizens of Montana to help you get treatment," Haynes said. "(Paul) Sells says you might have a borderline personality disorder, and if you do, that's how you're hard-wired, so you won't change."

Reporter Laura Lundquist can be reached at 363-3300 or at laura.lundquist@ravallirepublic.com.


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