Montana photographer victim of fatal stabbing; court document reveals new details

2014-06-20T15:00:00Z 2014-07-14T18:31:06Z Montana photographer victim of fatal stabbing; court document reveals new detailsBy CLAIR JOHNSON The Billings Gazette

Noted Montana outdoors photographer and publisher Mike S. Sample, known for his images of the state’s landscapes and wildlife, died Thursday in Billings after a stabbing near his downtown office.

Billings police officers arrested a suspect in the stabbing, Zachariah James Wiseman, 23, of Billings, a short time later on deliberate homicide charges.

Wiseman, who is being held at the county jail on suspicion of deliberate homicide, will likely make an initial court appearance Monday, Yellowstone County Attorney Scott Twito said Friday.

The stabbing occurred in the area of 14 N. 24th St., where Sample, 66, had his office and where his family’s Sample Foundation, Inc., office is located in the Fargo Hotel building.

According to an affidavit of probable cause filed Friday afternoon, Wiseman started assaulting Sample behind the building at about 1:25 p.m.

Prosecutors say he then pushed Sample into the business. Two witnesses to the initial assault behind the building ran inside to help Sample, the affidavit states. The witnesses reported Wiseman was standing over Sample, who was on the ground on his back.

The two witnesses held Wiseman until police arrived, court records say. Police reported finding blood and a knife on the floor. Sample had been stabbed in the torso and later died.

Sample was vice president of the Sample Foundation, a private family foundation that makes grants to nonprofit organizations in the areas of health, social welfare and services for underserved populations in Montana.

Sample’s father, Joseph S. Sample, a philanthropist and chairman of the foundation, said Friday that he and Michael had gone out for lunch together Thursday and had returned to their offices. He said he went to the foundation’s office on the second floor.

“I heard yelling down below and didn’t pay much attention,” he said, because the area gets so many drunks and panhandlers. “I just figured someone was yelling,” he said.

Then things got quiet. Sample said he went down the stairs and called to his son. There was no answer.

“By that time, the police had arrived,” Sample said.

Sample accompanied his son to the hospital, where the doctors said the stab wounds had not affected any vital organs and that his son’s vitals were fine, Sample said.

“We said 'great.' Twenty minutes later, he was gone. His heart stopped,” he said.

Sample called his son “a great asset” to the foundation. “We’re going to miss him, for sure,” he said.

In addition to his foundation work, Michael Sample’s photographs have appeared in numerous books and calendars. Sample and Larry Mayer, The Billings Gazette’s chief photographer, collaborated on the book “Montana on My Mind,” published in 1987.

Yellowstone County Sheriff’s Deputy Coroner Chad Fehr on Friday identified Sample as the victim and said an autopsy is scheduled for Monday.

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

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