The murder trial of Jeffery Todd Guy came to an abrupt end Thursday when the Billings man abandoned his claim of self-defense and entered a plea to a reduced charge.
Guy, 44, pleaded no contest to mitigated deliberate homicide at about noon after a morning of consultation with his attorneys and negotiations with prosecutors.
Guy was on trial for the March 20, 2011, death of 44-year-old Scott "Frog" Maxson, who was shot at least a dozen times with a .45-caliber pistol inside Guy's house on Broadwater Avenue.
Guy also pleaded guilty to two counts of felony tampering, admitting that he tried to cover up the killing by dragging Maxson's body from his house and burning evidence in a wood stove.
The plea agreement calls for prosecutors and Maxson's public defenders to recommend a total sentence of 50 years at Montana State Prison. The agreement includes a provision that the judge will not impose any restrictions on Guy's parole eligibility.
A sentencing hearing was set for April 15. Guy, who has been free on bond since shortly after the shooting, agreed to turn himself in at the Yellowstone County jail by 5 p.m. Thursday. Guy was on the inmate roster Thursday evening.
A no-contest plea is treated the same as a guilty plea at sentencing. A defendant who enters the conditional plea does not admit guilt but acknowledges that a jury would be likely to find him guilty after hearing all the evidence.
The trail began Tuesday with jury selection. Four witnesses testified Wednesday in what was expected to be a two-week trial. Prosecutors were prepared to call more than two dozen witnesses, including experts in DNA and serology.
The tampering charges were based on Guy's efforts to cover up the killing by dragging Maxson's body into an alley and burning evidence in a wood stove.
Guy's public defender, Christopher Abbott, told jurors during opening arguments Wednesday that Guy acted in self-defense when Maxson threatened him with a sword. The shooting happened after both men had been drinking and Maxson confronted Guy about his work in the 1990s as a drug informant, Abbott said.
By pleading to the lesser charge of mitigated murder, Guy said that he acted under extreme mental duress when he shot Maxson due to his intoxication, prescription drug use and mental illness.
In an offer of proof, Deputy County Attorney David Carter said the prosecution was prepared to prove that Guy murdered Maxson. There was no physical evidence to support Guy's claim that he killed Maxson in self-defense, Carter said.
If the trial had continued, jurors would have heard from scientists who found none of Maxson's DNA or blood on the sword, Carter said.
Other witnesses would have told the jury that Guy's claim of self-defense included "numerous inconsistencies," and his description of the deadly fight between the two men "was not consistent with the layout of the house."
Maxson was shot at least 12 times, and a majority of the gunshots were fired from a MAC-10 pistol as Maxson was on the floor on his back, Carter said.
Maxson was probably shot sometime after midnight. Guy called 911 at 8:15 a.m. to report that he had found the body of a dead man in the alley behind his house while taking out the trash.
It wasn't until much later that day, when confronted by police officers, that Guy first made the claim that he killed Maxson in self-defense, Carter said.
Mitigated deliberate homicide carries a maximum prison term of 40 years. The plea agreement states that Guy will receive the maximum for that offense, and an additional 10 years for using a firearm.
The attorneys will recommend that Guy receive concurrent 10-year sentences for the tampering charges.