Williams sentencing

Charles Williams enters the courtroom past more than a dozen Laurel police and Montana Highway Patrol officers during his sentencing for shooting at them in March.

LARRY MAYER Gazette Staff

The man who fired dozens of shots at law enforcement officers during an hours-long standoff in Laurel in March was sentenced Tuesday to 40 years in prison.

Charles Wayne Williams, 37, had earlier pleaded guilty to seven felonies: five counts of assault with a weapon and two counts of criminal endangerment.

Twelve uniformed officers attended the sentencing.

The standoff on March 27 began around 2:30 a.m. Williams had been arguing with his wife at their Laurel home after she discovered him texting another woman, lead Yellowstone County prosecutor Ed Zink wrote in his sentencing memo.

Williams grabbed a pistol from the closet and fired it into the ceiling, threatening to kill his wife, she later told police. Williams put her in a headlock at one point, but she was eventually able to grab their infant and young child and flee.

Officers responded, and Williams began shooting at them. He fired more than 70 rounds, using four guns, at four officers — two Montana Highway Patrol troopers, one patrolman from the Laurel Police Department and one Stillwater County sheriff’s deputy. One officer was hit in the foot.

Williams also fired into a duplex adjoining his home, which was occupied by two adults and four children. Williams at times told negotiators he planned to shoot himself.

The standoff lasted nearly three hours.

No witnesses testified at the hearing, but Zink did read from a statement prepared by Julie Mees, a fellow attorney with the Yellowstone County Attorney’s Office. Mees’ husband, Darvin, is a Montana Highway Patrol trooper who was involved in the shootout with Williams.

Mees wrote that she worries constantly for her husband’s safety.

“When he is at work, I carry a heavy knot of dread that doesn’t untangle until he comes home safely,” Mees wrote. “The knot retangles itself when he checks on shift.”

Mees said Williams’ actions since the shootout had been “insulting and offensive,” and that he was not taking the incident seriously.

“It is a miracle that he did not kill anyone, but he should not get credit for that because his intent was there,” she wrote.

Williams appeared to have exaggerated his mental health problems during the course of the case.

Judge Michael Moses said that while Williams had initially claimed he had been overcome by PTSD at the time of the shootout, the Montana State Hospital declined to diagnose him with PTSD. It did diagnose him with bipolar disorder, and he has since been receiving medication for that.

Defense attorney Jeffrey Michael echoed the state hospital’s findings in court Tuesday, saying a recent evaluation of Williams by mental health professionals did not support some of his claims about his mental condition. Prosecutors underscored the point, as well.

When it was his turn to speak, Williams talked about his struggles with alcohol addiction, his history of childhood abuse and his desire to get treatment in order to be a good father. Williams' wife plans to divorce and move out of state, his attorney said.

“I’m very thankful that nobody was injured or hurt during my drunken rampage,” he said. “I do want to apologize for my actions and the stress I have caused everybody involved.”

Williams cried while talking about resorting to alcohol to feel better emotionally, saying that before the standoff, he would regularly drink until he blacked out, neglecting his family. 

Williams will also be required to pay $8,791 in restitution.

Before handing down the sentence, Moses said law enforcement does not receive enough recognition for their work.

“All of us should thank them and appreciate them every damn day,” Moses said.

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Justice Reporter

Justice reporter for the Billings Gazette.