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Billings parolee gets 110 years for 2020 murder

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A Yellowstone County District Judge sentenced Alexander Garrett Laforge III to 110 years in the Montana State Prison without the possibility of parole for 50 years for the 2020 “execution-style murder” of Brett Ness.

Judge Donald Harris sentenced Laforge Monday following a two-hour hearing that included six victim impact statements and a debate on the appropriate level of restitution. Laforge was convicted in October 2021 of deliberate homicide following a jury trial.

Prosecutor Stephanie Fuller asked the judge to sentence Laforge to 100 years for the murder without the possibility of parole for 50 years and 10 years to run consecutive for the weapons enhancement. Fuller also asked the judge for restitution of $76,861 to be paid to the victim’s mother, Anita Ness, and $3,500 to be paid to the crime victims compensation fund. Most of that money, $72,000, was for loss of income due to the loss of her son’s employment at her business.

The state also asked the judge to rule Laforge a “persistent felony offender."

Laforge’s attorney, David Merchant, asked the judge to consider a 70-year sentence with no parole restriction in addition to the 10 years consecutive for the weapons enhancement. The earliest Laforge would be able to be paroled would have been 20 years under the recommendation.

Merchant also asked the judge to either deny $72,000 of the restitution or to set the matter for another date due to what he called a lack of evidence showing Ness’ loss did in fact cost the family so much money.

According to witnesses, Laforge waited in ambush in April 2020 for Ness as his accomplices — seven in all — lured the man out of his house before Laforge shot him at close range in the head. Ness had argued with Laforge days earlier when Ness stood up to the man often called an “enforcer” and "collector" involved in selling drugs. 

Ness’ family took the stand to show the devastating toll losing Ness had taken on their family and to advocate for the harshest possible sentence for the man they said murdered their loved one in cold blood and showed no remorse after the fact.

Ness’ father, Chad, provided a statement read into the record by prosecutor Christopher Morris. He, like Ness’ mother and other family after him, called on the judge to see that his son wasn’t perfect but was still a good person who did not deserve to die.

“Brett was no saint,” his father wrote, “but he was loved by many.” He discussed the people Ness impacted and the hole felt by his family. His anger and the anger of others was evident throughout the hearing.

He encouraged the judge to give Laforge life without the possibility of parole and rob Laforge of any second chance. “Brett does not get a second chance," he told the judge. "He’s gone forever.”

Ness’ mother, Anita Ness, opened her impact statement showing the judge two photos. The first was of her son, saying she wanted him to see her son when he was alive since the only picture the judge saw at trial was of Ness dead. The second photo was of her six-year-old granddaughter, Ness’ daughter. She was four when her father was killed.

She described how her son would always help a friend in need, how he stood up for others and how he would listen to and be there for people at their worst times. It was those character traits, she told the judge, that angered Laforge before he shot Ness in retaliation for him standing up to him.

“Brett truly was a genuine, loving, caring, one-of-a-kind young man,” she told the judge, “he was loved and is missed dearly by so many.”

Anita Ness said she suffers from memory loss, panic attacks and lives each day in a “fog” as a result of the murder.

“I can honestly say that until all of this happened, I didn’t know what it felt like to hate another person,” Anita Ness said. “I now know and it makes me sick. I can’t even begin to explain all the ways that I have changed. Brett was not perfect, but no one is. He didn’t deserve to die for his imperfections.”

Ness’ aunt, sister-in-law, brother and grandmother also gave statements to the judge. The resounding message was anger towards Laforge and a request that the judge sentence him to the harshest possible sentence calling mostly for life without parole.

At the center of much of the hearing was Laforge’s decade’s long career as a criminal. Prior to Monday’s proceeding he had been sentenced in seven other felonies and 22 misdemeanors. According to prosecutors, Laforge had spent all but three years of his adult life on some sort of supervision or in some form of incarceration. He was paroled to Billings in 2014 after serving part of a 10-year sentence for drug charges. His other felonies included multiple domestic abuse convictions.

Ness’ family pointed to his persistence as a violent felon and his lack of remorse in the murder of Ness as proof he deserved to be incarcerated for the rest of his life. The prosecution agreed and highlighted much of Laforge's criminal history prior to sentencing.

Throughout the hearing Laforge took notes on a legal pad while looking down. He did not react to anything said in the courtroom by any of the lawyers, witnesses, or the judge except to say no when asked if he wanted to make a statement to the court.

Merchant argued on behalf of his client that a lack of remorse was not indicative of his character, but that Laforge was maintaining his innocence at Merchant’s urging and was providing no statement in response to his counsel. 

Merchant called on the judge to consider Laforge’s age and to consider the fact that a 50-year parole restriction would be an effective life sentence since Laforge would not be eligible for parole until he was 94 years old. With the 80-year sentence, he argued, Laforge would be eligible for parole at 64-years-old it would be chance at "hope" for a new life instead of locking someone up for the rest of their life, Merchant argued.

In the end the judge sentenced Laforge to the state’s recommendation of 110 years for both the homicide and weapons enhancement without the possibility of parole for at least 50 years.

Harris said he took into consideration Laforge’s prior felony convictions, the 22 misdemeanors and the PSI author’s statement, “If he is released again, there is no reason to believe he won’t continue his alcohol abuse and violent behavior.”

The court’s finding, Harris said, “is that you are a clear and present danger to this community. I believe there is a high likelihood that you would injure or kill someone if you are released back into this community.”

Before closing Harris offered the family the court's condolences saying, "I hope that with time you will be able to heal." 

Then he turned to Laforge and said, "Mr. Laforge it may not seem like it but the court also wishes you luck, sir. It wishes you success in the future."

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