Nineteen-year-old Chase Munson was sentenced Monday to 50 years in Montana State Prison for shooting a convenience store employee and customer in March 2018.
The severe sentence, with only 10 years suspended, followed emotional statements from Munson's friends and family asking the court to consider his age and show some leniency.
But Missoula County District Court Judge Karen Townsend pointed out that Munson's victims survived only because his gun jammed. In addition to the two counts of attempted deliberate homicide, Monday's sentence also took into account charges theft, burglary and criminal mischief for earlier incidents.
“I know that I can improve myself,” Munson said before receiving his sentence. “And I am ready to accept the consequences for my actions.”
According to testimony and court documents, Munson walked into the Conoco at South and Higgins avenues with Ivory Brien, then 19. Munson shot an employee and a customer before Brien sprayed them both with pepper spray.
Video recording of the shootings shown at Monday’s sentencing showed the time between Munson and Brien entering and leaving the convenience store only to be around 20 seconds.
Munson, who admitted he was under the influence of drugs that night, said his actions on Mar. 6, 2018 “do not reflect a sober me.” When Townsend asked why he entered the store, he said he wanted to get money for drugs. And when she asked Munson why he brought a .22-caliber pistol, he couldn’t answer.
“I don’t remember a lot of that night,” said Munson, who pleaded guilty to the charges in June.
Christopher Dobson, who survived the shooting, echoed the prosecution in a sworn statement Monday, saying that the shooting at the store was premeditated, as evidenced by the backpack with extra ammunition that Munson carried.
“If you wanted the money, I would have given it to you with a bow tag. I would have packed the beer for you. But, I do forgive you,” he said.
Dobson, a Navy veteran who was preparing to graduate from the University of Montana on the night Munson shot him, said he was only able to appear in the court because the gun jammed and preventing further shots. He doesn’t want Munson to lose his life in prison, but he does want him to be rehabilitated.
“Healing, restoration and rehabilitation can work. We see that it most often works, statistically, with long-term offenders,” he said.
Theresa Reed, a clinical psychologist who conducted a forensic evaluation of Munson, asked the judge to consider both his young age and his upbringing when determining his sentence. She said trauma from a “neglectful, dysfunctional, abusive” childhood, including being taken from his mother at age 6, combined with a family history of substance abuse, made Munson especially vulnerable.
Psychologically, Reed said Munson resembled a youth, rather than a hardened criminal. At 18, when he committed the crimes, Reed said Munson still had seven more years of brain development left. His drug abuse only further damaged his decision-making capacity.
“I’m not here to suggest that Mr. Munson has a mental health defense for his violent and destructive act. I do think that he should be held accountable,” she said. “My role here today is to recommend that the court give due consideration to his youthfulness and his psychological developmental status.”
Reed said Munson had been diagnosed with antisocial personality disorder, chemical dependency and ADHD, and also has had a history of depression.
Many of those who gave statements on Munson's behalf, including his sister, mother and grandfather, admitted to having their own struggles with addiction.
In considering the sentence, Townsend said many people go through traumatic experiences who “do not end up walking into a convenience store and shooting two people.” Because the two victims survived only because the gun misfired, she did not agree with his defense’s recommendation of 40 years with 30 suspended.
Along with serving 50 years, 10 suspended, for his role in the convenience store shooting, Townsend also sentenced Munson to serve time concurrently for crimes committed in January and February 2018. Munson pleaded guilty to stealing an SUV, stealing a cannabis plant from a medical marijuana dispensary, and crashing a stolen minivan into the wall of pipe and smoke store Mellow Mood.
“The court, finally will recommend to the Department of Corrections that the defendant be screened for and participate in any and all chemical dependency treatment programs that are available,” she said.
After receiving his sentence, Munson left the court for immediate transfer to Montana State Prison.