Billings man gets 70 years for murdering great-grandmother

2014-03-27T16:19:00Z 2014-03-28T14:02:44Z Billings man gets 70 years for murdering great-grandmotherBy ZACH BENOIT zbenoit@billingsgazette.com The Billings Gazette

A 19-year-old Billings man was sentenced Thursday to 70 years in prison for murdering his great-grandmother in her South Side home last July.

District Judge Mary Jane Knisely sentenced Robert Alan Thompson to 60 years in Montana State Prison for deliberate homicide, with an additional 10 years because he used a weapon.

In January, Thompson admitted to the beating and stabbing death of Shirley Lawrence, 77, last July 19 at her home on Murphy Avenue.

He was staying at the home of Lawrence, his great-grandmother, at the time and killed her during an argument that started when she told him to get a job and that he was going to turn out like his father.

After the murder, Thompson stole her car and drove to Denver, Colo., where officers arrested him the next day. 

He fought his return to Billings by refusing to waive his right to extradition, which led prosecutors to acquire a warrant from the Montana governor for his return.

Deputy County Attorney Christopher Morris said the 90-minute sentencing on Thursday included testimony from Keith Buxbaum, a detective with the Billings Police Department, detailing the investigation of the murder from start to finish.

At the request of the County Attorney's Office and on behalf of Lawrence, three family members — Thompson's mother and Lawrence's daughter and son-in-law — also testified.

Morris said that, just before Knisely handed down the sentence, Thompson read a prepared statement and then directly addressed the family members in the courtroom.

"He personally turned and apologized to the three (of them)," Morris said. "He apologized, he accepted full responsibility for his actions. He asked for their forgiveness."

Thompson's attorney, Assistant Public Defender Tom Bartleson, asked for a lighter sentence of 40 years with a 10-year weapons enhancement. The state asked for a total of 75 years for Thompson.

In January, Thompson pleaded guilty to the deliberate homicide charge in exchange for a recommendation that a few years be removed from his sentence because he provided information that helped investigators recover Lawrence's wedding ring, which he stole, according to the County Attorney's Office.

Copyright 2014 The Billings Gazette. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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