GLENDIVE - Lance Deines, a Boy Scout-turned-killer, is proof that the scourge of drugs infects Eastern Montana, a District Court judge said Wednesday.
"All of us, certainly all of us who have children, need to take another look at whether we are doing enough" to keep children away from drugs, Judge Joe Hegel said.
Hegel sentenced Deines to 150 years in the Montana State Prison for the kidnapping and murder two years ago of 17-year-old Steve Berry. Hegel suspended 30 years of the sentence, making Deines eligible to seek parole after he had served 30 years.
Deines declined to speak during the hourlong hearing, which included statements from several of Berry's family members.
Deines pleaded guilty last month to two counts of felony aggravated kidnapping and one count of deliberate homicide in a deal reached with prosecutors that spared him a possible death sentence.
Deines and Chad Downs, then 17, were charged last year for the fatal shooting of Berry on Dec. 30, 2000. Prosecutors said Berry was abducted twice within a month, then was taken out of town and shot six times in the head with a 9mm handgun.
Berry's body was burned and left in a ravine south of Glendive. Downs turned himself in to police two weeks after the slaying and led officers to Berry's body.
Prosecutors said Berry was killed in retribution for stealing a safe containing cash, cocaine and collectible baseball cards from Deines.
At the time Berry was shot, Deines was using methamphetamine daily, a probation officer testified Wednesday. Deines began dabbling in marijuana at age 15, and by 19 was smoking pot daily, the officer said. Deines also admitted to experimenting with hallucinogens, the officer said.
"Drug use in Eastern Montana has skyrocketed," Dawson County Attorney Scott Herring said after the hearing. "The use of methamphetamine is just as much a problem in Eastern Montana as it is in Billings or any other urban area in the country."
Deines' attorney, Phyllis Quatman, said many Glendive teenagers were involved in Berry's death through a common attraction to illegal drugs. Until Berry's murder, Deines had no record of violent behavior, Quatman said.
Six others were charged and have pleaded guilty in connection with Berry's death. Four are awaiting sentencing, including Downs, who has pleaded guilty to deliberate homicide and other charges.
Deines' plea agreement included a joint recommendation by prosecutors and Deines' attorneys for a sentence of 150 years on the three charges. The agreement, which Hegel said he would follow to avoid a possible appeal, also called for 30 years of the sentence to be suspended and the possibility of parole only after Deines has served 30 years.
About 60 people filled the Dawson County courtroom for the hearing.
Members of Deines' family and his supporters attended the hearing, but none spoke publicly before the judge imposed sentence. Deines showed little emotion and rarely looked up from the table where he was sitting.
Hegel said Deines has been described both as a Boy Scout and "the epitome of evil" by the attorneys and others involved in the case.
"Unfortunately, both are true," Hegel said. "Somewhere, Lance lost his way."
The judge continued: "The thing that should really scare us all is the ease through which this occurred, that society didn't notice."
The drug dealers and users depicted in movies are very different from the reality of teens in every community who fall into addiction and crime, the judge said. Both Deines and Berry were "all-American types" whose lives were wasted by drugs, he said.
Several of Berry's family members spoke at the hearing and asked Hegel to impose the harshest possible sentence against Deines. Berry's mother, Violet Berry of Glendive, said she was disturbed that Deines had not fully admitted to her son's murder. In an affidavit admitting his guilt to the charge of deliberate homicide, Deines said Berry was killed during the course of another crime committed by himself and others.
"He has never said, 'I did this,' " she said. "No matter what sad story he gives us, I still have to go to the cemetery to spend time with my son."
Berry's father, Tom Berry, and sister, Michelle Weiland, both of Billings, spoke before Deines was sentenced. Tom Berry described his son's murder as a "thrill kill" by Deines.
"The truth is, your honor, before you sits Lance Deines, a cold-blooded killer and drug dealer," he said.
Weiland said she struggles with how to someday tell her infant son about the uncle he will never meet.
"I want you to know," she said while looking at Deines, "Steve will always hold a loving and gentle place in our hearts, but you will be forgotten."
Judge Hegel said Deines has no way of paying the estimated $300,000 in restitution that prosecutors say is owed in the case, but ordered him to pay the victim's family and a state crime victims fund $16,000. The money will be taken out of Deines' prison earnings.
Hegel also said Deines should consider apologizing to Berry's family someday, but cautioned that the apology should be discussed first with a probation officer who could serve as a go-between.
"He's traveled quite a road from civilization, and the road back, perhaps, will be longer," Hegel said of Deines.