Family members of a Missoula man who pleaded guilty to two counts of attempted deliberate homicide asked the court Monday for minimum prison time, along with counseling, when it considers his sentence.
“I believe that he’s not the same person that he was one-and-a-half years ago,” said Chase Munson’s sister, Mazie Chavez, who held back tears during her statement.
Her remarks came during a Missoula County District Court hearing for Munson, who pleaded guilty in June to shooting a convenience store employee and customer.
Although Judge Karen Townsend granted defense Attorney Leta Womack's request that Munson’s sentencing be continued to Aug. 12, she also allowed those who won’t be available at that time to speak Monday on Munson’s behalf.
In March 2018, Munson and Ivory Brien, who was enrolled at the University of Montana, entered the Conoco at South and Higgins avenues. According to court documents, Munson, 18 at the time, shot an employee in the shoulder and a customer in the head with a .22-caliber pistol. Brien then sprayed the two with pepper spray before leaving with Munson.
After Munson initially pleaded not guilty to charges of attempted deliberate homicide, prosecutors also charged him with multiple counts of theft, burglary and criminal mischief. Court documents say that in January and February 2018, Munson drove a stolen vehicle into the garage door of a medical marijuana dispensary, and a stolen minivan into the wall of pipe and smoke store Mellow Mood. He pleaded not guilty to the charges filed in May.
Munson said at the June hearing, when he changed his plea to guilty, that he went into the convenience store while under the influence of drugs with the intention of robbing it. For his role in the shooting, Brien received a deferred sentence.
According to court documents, county prosecutors have requested a prison sentence of 60 years on each charge of attempted homicide. As part of his agreement with prosecutors, Munson also pleaded guilty to felony charges of theft, burglary and criminal mischief.
Survivors of the shooting joined Munson’s family in court for the Monday hearing.
Munson’s great-aunt Sheryl Cole, who has a master’s in psychology with an emphasis in neurobiology and also worked as a chemical dependency counselor, drew from her own experience as a survivor in her statement.
Unlike the man who assaulted her and at least 12 other women, she said, Munson committed his crimes out of an impulse spurred by an addiction. According to Cole, “prior to these horrible events, he had never shown an inclination toward violence,” or been arrested.
“To be very clear, nothing I say today is meant to minimize the effect upon the victims,” she said. “I know what the PTSD is like. I know the panic attacks. I know the nightmares.”
Cole said Munson began taking “various types of Ritalin” at the age of 8 to treat a diagnosis for attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Munson relied on medication for nearly 10 years, which kept him from developing ways to “calm his agitation and his anxieties.”
You have free articles remaining.
Kaylene Munson, his aunt, said in court she remembers a change in Munson once he started taking Ritalin.
“It broke my heart,” she said. “He didn’t want to do anything. He just wanted to lay around.”
During her correspondence with Munson, Cole said he told her he became “hooked” on Xanax, an anti-anxiety medication, after he went off his other medication. She said he carried out the convenience store shooting and his earlier crimes on impulse due to his addiction.
“With treatment, this could change,” she said.
Julie Dodge, the current dean of the College of Health and Human Sciences at Concordia University, offered her opinion both as Munson’s cousin and as someone with decades of experience in social work and youth addiction.
“About two-thirds of the population experiences some kind of childhood trauma, but when you’ve been through some of the things that Chase has been through, with his grandfather and mother’s addictions, violence in the home growing up … it leaves an impact,” she said.
Dodge said although she was not familiar with the assessment that diagnosed Munson with ADHD, it could be possible that he instead suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder.
Munson's medication to treat his diagnosis for ADHD may have had a damaging effect, Dodge said.
“By prescribing him a drug that he may or may not have needed, we changed the balance of his brain,” Dodge said.
Dodge said Munson’s traumatic childhood and addictions do not relieve him of responsibility, but she also believes in “restorative justice.” Citing a program started by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation that prioritized treatment over incarceration for juvenile drug offenders, she said the data are clear that “young people involved in treatment are less likely to recidivate, and they are less likely to commit further crimes. They just need an opportunity.
“Chase is young. We know that the frontal lobes of his brain are still not even done developing,” she said. “Can you give him an opportunity?”
Several other members of Munson’s family, including his mother and grandfather, will give statements at his Aug. 12 restitution hearing and sentencing.