RED LODGE - A 66-year-old Fromberg man convicted of murder for the shooting death of his son was sentenced Wednesday to 60 years at Montana State Prison.
Carbon County District Judge Blair Jones agreed to follow a sentencing recommendation from prosecutors, calling the shooting death of 43-year-old Buddy Daniels last May 21 the most serious of crimes.
Jones also imposed a 20-year parole restriction, meaning that Larry Daniels must serve 20 years of his sentence before he is eligible for parole consideration.
The sentence was imposed after a two-hour hearing in which several family members and acquaintances gave conflicting accounts of Larry Daniels, who spoke briefly before he was sentenced.
Larry Daniels was convicted of deliberate homicide at the close of a weeklong trial in January. He claimed that he shot his son in self-defense during a heated physical confrontation between the two men at a home they shared in Fromberg. Daniels called 911 immediately after the shooting. At his trial he told the jury his son attacked him in his bedroom.
Prosecutors argued that Buddy Daniels was shot twice from the back, making the defendant's claim of self-defense unbelievable. The jury agreed, and they returned the guilty verdict after about three hours of deliberation.
On Wednesday, Carbon County Attorney Alex Nixon and Assistant Attorney General Daniel Guzynski called several witnesses to bolster their request for a long prison sentence. Dana Brace, the mother of Buddy Daniels, told the judge that she met Larry Daniels at a young age and was married to him for seven years.
Brace, who testified by telephone from California, acknowledged to defense attorney Todd Chatman that Larry Daniels raised their son for most of his childhood, explaining that she agreed to let him live with his father after she suffered serious injuries in a crash.
Brace said Larry Daniels is violent and abusive, a dangerous man who needs to "spend the rest of his life in prison."
"He murdered his own son," she said.
Mistie O'Masters, the former wife of Buddy Daniels and the mother of their son, said she feared Larry Daniels and has struggled to deal with her teenage son's grief over the loss of his father. The boy, Hagen Daniels, also testified and described his father as his best friend. He asked the judge to impose a harsh sentence against his grandfather.
"He took away my Dad's chance to live a long and meaningful life, and I think the courts should do the same thing to him," the teenager said.
Chatman, the defense attorney, called several witnesses who gave a different account of Larry Daniels, calling him a caring man who helped others. Veronica Jones, a woman who described Larry Daniels as a good friend and companion for several years, said she never had reason to fear him. She described him as "loving, tender."
Larry Daniels' teenage son, Logan Daniels, also testified by telephone at the hearing. Logan and Hagen were both at the residence the night of the shooting and they both testified at the trial.
"He treated me good and I know he loves me," Logan Daniels told the judge. "Go easy on him so I can see him again."
Chatman asked the judge to consider a sentence of 50 or 60 years in prison with 30 years suspended and no parole restriction. He said the sentence recommended by prosecutors amounted to a life sentence for the 66-year-old man.
Larry Daniels then spoke, taking several moments to compose himself before addressing the judge. He said that he raised Buddy and loved him as much as any of his children. He described his son as "pretty ornery."
"What happened was terrible and I'll miss him as much as anybody else," he said. "And I'm so sorry."