COLUMBUS — A 43-year-old man who was suspected of several church burglaries in Billings and admitted to a string of break-ins in Stillwater County was sentenced to prison on Thursday.
Stillwater County District Judge Blair Jones described John Wilson Chamber's criminal history as "one of the worst" he has seen for property crimes before ordering him to serve eight concurrent 20-year prison terms for felony burglary.
Jones also ordered Chambers, of Billings, to serve a consecutive 10-year suspended sentence for felony criminal mischief. He also ordered that Chambers serve those sentences in addition to a 10-year prison term he is serving for a probation violation.
Chambers briefly apologized before he was sentenced, saying he was looking forward to receiving mental health treatment.
Chambers previously pleaded guilty to the nine felony charges following his arrest in Reed Point at 3 a.m. last May 3. A sheriff's deputy found Chambers hiding near a church that had been burglarized.
Investigators determined that a Reed Point bar also had been burglarized that night.
The arrest ended a string a break-ins in Stillwater County that began two nights earlier in Rapelje, where six buildings, including a church, a school and a U.S. Post Office, were targeted.
A month earlier, eight churches in Billings were burglarized. Chambers was a suspect in those and other similar crimes in the area, but he was never charged.
Billings police Lt. Kevin Iffland said this week that investigators did not have enough evidence to warrant charges against Chambers for the church burglaries.
On Thursday, Chambers appeared in the courtroom in Columbus by video from the Cascade County jail, where he is being held on the probation violation. His court-appointed attorney, Greg Paskell, asked the judge to order the 10-year suspended sentence for the criminal mischief charge concurrent to the other sentences, and to run those sentences concurrent to the 10-year sentence he is serving for the probation violation.
Deputy County Attorney Nancy Rohde objected, saying that was not the negotiated plea agreement, which also called for the dismissal of 11 misdemeanor charges.
State prison records show Chambers has nine prior felony convictions in Montana dating back to 1995. His criminal record stretches back to 1988, when he was convicted of several felony crimes in North Carolina.
Jones said he imposed the consecutive sentences partly because Chambers made "no distinction" between churches and the other targets of his crimes.
"Nothing was safe, essentially," Jones said.