Fifteen days after a man was found shot to death at his Molt home, Jeffrey Hardman walked into a Billings church and confessed to the killing.
Hardman told an associate pastor at Faith Chapel Church that he was seeking “prayer and encouragement” for a “big step” he was taking later that day.
Pastor Robert Griggs told Hardman that anything he said would remain confidential unless his statement was about a crime. Hardman confessed anyway, saying he planned to turn himself in.
On Monday, a Stillwater County District Court jury will begin hearing evidence at Hardman’s murder trial for the shooting death last Oct. 15 of Michael Blattie. The 33-year-old man was found on the front porch of his Molt home dead from a gunshot wound.
Hardman, 48, is charged with deliberate homicide and felony tampering. He is being held in the Yellowstone County jail on $1 million bond.
Stillwater County Attorney John Petak and Assistant Attorney General Brant Light are prosecuting the case before Judge Blair Jones. The prosecutors allege that Hardman killed Blattie, and then lied to investigator and buried the gun used to shoot Blattie.
Blattie was the son of former Stillwater County Commissioner Harold Blattie.
Hardman’s public defenders, Todd Chatman and Scott Spencer, have said in court records they intend to argue to the jury that the shooting was justified. Hardman asserts that Blattie hit him before he used a gun to defend himself. There were no witnesses.
Jury selection was held Friday, and opening statements are expected Monday morning. The trial could last three or four days.
Hardman’s defense appears to center on the same confession that authorities used to charge him with murder. According to Griggs, the pastor, Hardman came into the church on Oct. 30 and asked to speak with a pastor. Hardman told Griggs he loaned Blattie $35 and had gone to Blattie’s house on Molt-Rapelje Road to collect the debt.
Hardman lived nearby, and said he took a pistol with him to Blattie’s house for protection.
Griggs said Hardman explained that Blattie had borrowed the money a few weeks earlier, saying he wanted to fix a tractor. The tractor had not been fixed, so Hardman decided to get back his money.
“While standing on Blattie’s front porch, Hardman related that Blattie punched Hardman above his right eye and in the lip,” court records state. “Hardman drew his pistol and a fight over the firearm ensued. The resulting fight over the pistol ended with the pistol discharging, killing Blattie.”
Blattie died of a gunshot to the abdomen.
According to prosecutors, other evidence of Hardman’s guilt includes a message he left on Blattie’s telephone the day before the shooting. And during a search of Hardman’s residence after the shooting, investigators found a signed written confession.
“I can’t take the guilt,” Hardman allegedly wrote. “God save me and Mike please. I hope Mike’s family can forgive.”