Three University of Montana football players arrested Sunday morning after a Pattee Canyon family reported burglars were in their home pleaded guilty to misdemeanor criminal trespass charges Wednesday in Justice Court.
Kendrick Van Ackeren, Joseph Counts and John Schmaing accepted responsibility for the trespass charge, while UM student Maclain Tomlinson, who was with them in the home, pleaded guilty to both misdemeanor criminal trespass and misdemeanor theft charges for taking a case of beer.
The fifth UM student Courtney Reep, who was the group's designated driver, entered a not guilty plea. She had arrived at the address moments before police to pick up the men, so they would not drive while drunk.
According to testimony and their attorneys, the four men were at a party in the neighborhood and waiting for a ride from Reep, when they started walking down the hill and saw the home at 200 Pattee Canyon Drive.
According to court proceedings, all four believed the residence to be unoccupied. They thought it was under construction, and went inside to get out of the rain.
The home, however, was occupied and the frightened family called 9-1-1.
"I wish I could do everything in my power to take that pain away from them," Counts said, turning and facing the courtroom. "I would like to reach out to that family with my sincerest apologies."
Counts was near tears during his lengthy statement, apologizing to the victims for his actions that evening.
All four young men apologized, expressing their regret to the university, the victims and their own families.
Van Ackeren's mother, Michelle, testified about raising her sons as a struggling, single mother and spoke to the football player's strong moral character, while apologizing for his actions. Michelle, who works as a probation officer in Washington, apologized to the victims and asked to meet them.
"I also understand that meeting the young man who violated your sense of security is the last thing on your mind," she said. "Please know, we are open and willing to meet you and apologize profusely in person and allow you the opportunity to get to know him and hopefully rid you of any fearful image that was left behind because of his actions."
The four attorneys asked for a deferred imposition of sentence, but Deputy County Attorney Jason Marks asked for a significantly harsher penalty, requesting that Acting Justice of the Peace Shane Vannatta impose a six-month suspended sentence on the football players, and stipulated several conditions, including listening to the 9-1-1 call the family made to report the intrusion.
"I understand the inclination to sentence the defendants to a deferred sentence when there's no criminal record," Marks said. "However, what they did was extremely serious. It could have ended differently if they encountered a different homeowner who was armed."
Vannatta handed down a six-month suspended sentence to the three athletes, which will be up for deferral after one year if the conditions of the sentence are met.
Tomlinson received two six-month sentences, also suspended and to run consecutively. He also will be able to petition the court for a deferred sentence after one year.
Aside from listening to the 9-1-1 call, the conditions imposed on the four defendants include an $85 surcharge on each count, 80 hours of community service each, and restitution in the amount of $16,500 total for counseling for the family.
They are also prohibited from drinking or entering a place that serves alcohol.
Eric Taber, UM sports information director told the Missoulian on Wednesday that the football players' participation in team activities is being re-evaluated in light of the new information.
Van Ackeren, Counts and Schmaing were initially suspended from team activities after they were booked for felony burglary Sunday.