On Friday, a Billings judge sentenced “career criminal” Benjamin Quinn McChesney to five years in the Montana State Prison for jumping bail, resolving the last case against a man with a 15-year history of beating charges.
McChesney, 36, has five prior felony convictions, including on three federal charges in what is believed to be the biggest gun heist in state history.
“I would consider him a career criminal. That’s what he does. He commits crimes,” Chief Deputy Yellowstone County Attorney Juli M. Pierce told District Judge G. Todd Baugh, arguing for the statutory maximum sentence of 10 years at Montana State Prison.
The bail-jumping charge, which McChesney pleaded guilty to last month, stems from his skipping out on his May 17, 2011, trial in a drug case.
“He wasn’t arrested until almost two years later after he had fled to another country, the country of Mexico, and had to be brought back by the U.S. Marshals,” Pierce said.
McChesney argued for a fine and no prison, saying the state was asking for the 10-year sentence as a “back-door” way to punish him for other cases that have been dismissed.
He was charged in two 2010 cases with assaulting his then-wife and in a third case — the case in which he skipped his trial — with possession of drugs with intent to distribute. The first assault case was dismissed in April 2010 after the alleged victim recanted. The other two cases were dismissed in February at Pierce’s request.
Court records indicate the Yellowstone County Attorney’s Office originally intended to make McChesney’s ex-wife, who was 19 when they married, testify against him.
The state’s motions to dismiss the cases state that McChesney’s ex-wife did not want to testify.
McChesney restated Friday, as he said in a February letter to The Gazette, that his ex-wife is a compulsive liar and that he never assaulted her.
“I didn’t show up. That’s what this is about: Not showing up for court,” McChesney said. “It’s not about assaulting my wife. It’s not about running to Mexico. It doesn’t matter where I went. I didn’t show up.”
In the last 15 years, prosecutors have dropped numerous cases against McChesney, who has acted as his own attorney at times, including in federal court.
His attorney in the bail-jumping case, Daniel O.C. Ball, said Friday that a pre-sentence report noted McChesney has a high I.Q.
“That’s probably worked to his benefit and detriment, judge,” Ball said. “But, I think I look at that more optimistically. He’s not a lost cause.”
McChesney’s criminal history dates back to at least 1996, when officers pulled him over in Gillette, Wyo., after receiving a phone tip about a possible DUI driver.
McChesney was alleged to have had a large amount of marijuana in his vehicle. Prosecutors charged him with possession of marijuana with intent to deliver.
McChesney appealed to the state’s high court. He argued a phone tip alone didn’t give the officer enough probable cause to make a traffic stop.
The Supreme Court agreed with McChesney, ruling in 1999 that prosecutors could not present evidence of his marijuana possession at trial. The charge was dismissed for lack of evidence.
In 2004, McChesney was convicted in federal court for his role in a drug network that prosecutors said brought nearly 85 pounds of methamphetamine to Billings.
Five years later, a judge granted McChesney a new trial after determining his attorney failed to investigate information that came to light after McChesney’s conviction. The case was not retried.
Prior to fleeing to Mexico in August 2010, McChesney and another man stole more than 130 guns from a freight trailer at Con-Way Freight in Billings, which ultimately resulted in his federal firearms convictions last year.
Federal prosecutors said that at about the time that trial was scheduled, he kidnapped his wife and child and fled to Mexico, where he was found by U.S. Marshals and arrested in January 2013. The kidnapping charges were dismissed last April.
The firearms charges stuck, resulting in a jury conviction, and in November he was given the maximum sentence of 10 years in federal prison.
His five-year sentence for the bail-jumping conviction will run in addition to his federal sentence.