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Lake County man charged with homicide, placed under house arrest

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POLSON — A Lake County man is confined to his parents’ home as he awaits trial for murder.

Daniel Chance Blixt, 29, of Pablo, faces one count of deliberate homicide in connection with the shooting of Matthew Darnell. He spent most of March at the Lake County Detention Center. But last week, District Court Judge James Manley ordered his release to house arrest.

Lake County Attorney Steve Eschenbacher alleges that Blixt killed Darnell, 30, on the night of Feb. 28, amid tensions involving money and his ex-wife Natasha.

She was Matthew Darnell’s girlfriend at the time of the shooting, Eschenbacher wrote. That evening, his affidavit states, the couple drove to Blixt’s Pablo home so that Natasha could pay her ex-husband for watching their children. “Since she knew that there was some animosity between the Defendant and the victim, she had the victim park down the street from the house.”

Daniel Blixt “was already outside when she arrived and he demanded to know who was with her,” Eschenbacher continued. Natasha lied at first, but Blixt started towards the car.

“At this point, the victim emerged from the car and started advancing towards the Defendant. The Defendant then drew his weapon, a .40 pistol and shot the victim several times.”

Law enforcement responded shortly after 10 p.m., and Daniel Blixt was quickly arrested by Flathead Tribal Police. Darnell, “while initially conversant, became unconscious and was declared dead at St. Luke’s Hospital shortly after arrival.”

As he awaits trial, Blixt has been placed under house arrest in his parents’ Pablo home, where he had lived with his children. He was first detained on $250,000 bond. Timothy Wenz, one of his defense attorneys, moved to reduce that to $25,000 bond on house arrest.

In a March 28 order, Manley agreed to house arrest, writing that “the law requires the Court to determine this motion based on two considerations: degree to which Defendant is a flight risk and a threat to the community.”

“Defendant has no prior history of violence, and no relevant criminal history. This violent event is likely tied to the specific situation then-existing, and is not likely to be repeated pending trial of this case.”

In addition, Manley noted, “he is disabled from an eye condition, and requires expensive medical procedures which are paid by Medicare if he is not in custody, and by the county taxpayers if he remains in custody.”

And a cash bond, he wrote, “would only cost his parents an additional $2,500, and would serve no additional purpose.” The next day, Manley clarified that Blixt does not have to file bail money or bail bond, and ordered him released to his parents’ house. Under the terms of his house arrest, Blixt will have to wear a GPS tracker and may only leave his parents’ house for medical treatment.

“If he’s out and he’s not going to a doctor, I just want someone to call me, because we’ll put him right back in” jail, Eschenbacher said. “It’s disappointing, and we’ll proceed ahead” with the charge.

Eschenbacher said he won’t seek the maximum sentence — death — in this case, but declined to discuss sentencing further. “I just want to get him convicted first, and we’ll figure it out from there.”

A trial has been scheduled for Aug. 19. The moments leading up to the shooting, and Darnell’s interactions with Blixt, are likely to draw close scrutiny.

In his charging documents, Eschenbacher wrote that “the Defendant initially indicated that he had acted in self-defense, but a review of the facts conducted by investigators show that the defense is not justifiable.”

But Amanda Marvin, Blixt's other defense attorney, wrote in an email that “my client raised the issue of self-defense immediately, and I believe the ongoing investigation will bring more facts to light that will support that defense at trial.”

However it unfolds, Darnell’s friend Jonathan Morton made clear that “I just don’t want the court things to make him look ugly.” He described Darnell as a compassionate friend and devoted father to three young daughters.

Darnell’s death comes in the wake of an unrelated case — the death of Cassandra Harris last summer — in which Eschenbacher reduced a negligent homicide charge to one of criminal endangerment, concerned that he couldn't prove the former. That decision stoked widespread dissatisfaction with Lake County’s criminal justice system.

A month after his friend’s death, Morton shares that sentiment.

“There’s stuff going on in Lake County that’s not OK, and that the community’s not OK with,” he said. “We might even be the cause of it, because we elected people into these spots.”

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