Cleveland Boyer was sentenced Friday to life in prison, plus 20 years, for gunning down his former best friend in the parking lot of a downtown convenience store.
Yellowstone County District Judge Gregory Todd also ordered the additional 20 years because Boyer used a gun to kill Danny Valenzuela and then tried to get rid of the weapon after the shooting.
Boyer, 23, showed little reaction as the judge pronounced sentence after a 90-minute hearing. He smiled as he was led from the courtroom to begin serving his sentence.
Earlier, Boyer made a brief statement and apologized for the death of Valenzuela, whom he shot nine times with a .22-caliber handgun outside the downtown Holiday convenience store on March 13, 2010.
"I'm sorry for his loss," Boyer said. "I feel it, too."
Todd, who spent about 30 minutes reviewing the evidence that was heard at Boyer's trial in November, was not moved by the apology.
The judge noted that in a pre-sentence investigation, Boyer still claimed he shot Valenzuela in self-defense. Boyer made the claim again at trial when he testified in his own defense.
After a six-day trial, the jury took two hours to find Boyer guilty of deliberate homicide and felony tampering. The murder charge included an enhancement for the use of a weapon.
Todd also noted that while Boyer has little criminal history, he has failed to earn a high school degree, has never held down a steady job and he has refused to support the children he fathered with three women.
One of those women testified Friday that Boyer demanded she get an abortion and attacked her when she was four or five months pregnant.
Boyer owes about $7,000 in back child support, the judge said.
Todd also referenced the many tattoos Boyer has inked on his face and neck. The one on his neck that reads "Love to Hate" stands out, the judge said.
"Standing alone it may not be that important, but it certainly fits here," the judge said.
Valenzuela and Boyer were former best friends whose relationship soured when Valenzuela began dating the mother of one of Boyer's children.
The bad blood between them reached a boil on March 12, 2010, when Boyer learned Valenzuela had hit the woman.
Boyer told several people he was out to get Valenzuela, and he enlisted the help of another man to search for him that night despite the warnings of his mother and others to not get involved.
Early the next morning, at about 3:15 a.m., the men crossed paths by coincidence as they arrived at the gas station in separate vehicles a few minutes apart.
Witnesses said Boyer stared at Valenzuela from the passenger seat of a van. Valenzuela walked in front of the van and was heading toward the store when Boyer opened fire.
Valenzuela was struck by nine bullets. All of the bullets entered from his right side and from slightly behind. One bullet damaged the spinal cord in his neck.
No weapon was found near Valenzuela. He died six days later.
Boyer fled. He was apprehended in Bozeman at about midnight that day.
At trial, Boyer told the jury he believed Valenzuela was reaching for a gun when he opened fire.
Yellowstone County Attorney Scott Twito argued Friday that Boyer deserved a sentence of life in prison for what prosecutors described at trial as the execution-style murder.
"This crime is brazen, incredibly brazen," Twito said Friday at the court hearing.
Boyer's public defender, Matthew Claus, argued for a sentence of 80 years in prison, with 20 years suspended.
"We do acknowledge the tragedy of this, but justice can be blind not stupid," Claus said. "Justice is fair."
Todd also ordered Boyer to pay $29,305 in restitution.