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Thomas Schifferns

Thomas Schifferns appears in District Court in Red Lodge on Wednesday, February 28, 2018, to be arraigned on a charge of deliberate homicide in the death of James McGregor.

A Red Lodge man is now serving time in the Montana State Prison for fatally shooting another man at a trailhead south of Red Lodge in 2018.

Thomas Joseph Schifferns, 34, was sentenced July 10 to life in prison for the death of James McGregor on Feb. 19, 2018.

District Court Judge Matthew Wald made no parole restrictions.

McGregor was an active member of his Southern Baptist church and was remembered as a thoughtful, if occasionally grumpy, man.

Police Chief Scott Cope worried McGregor had a diminished mental capacity and chemical dependency issues, according to charges.

At his sentencing hearing, Schifferns told the court he was McGregor’s friend and that he "would do anything for him,” Carbon County Attorney Alex Nixon said, paraphrasing. 

Schifferns’ mother-in-law spoke on his behalf, Nixon said.

None of McGregor’s family attended, but some submitted letters to the court. McGregor, 63, was from Michigan.

McGregor had been living with Schifferns and Schifferns’ common-law spouse, receiving meals and help with errands, before he was reported missing. His body was found two days later at the Bear Track trailhead about 100 yards from his truck, which appeared to be stuck in the snow.

McGregor’s safe, where he kept cash, had been emptied.

Schifferns, who was arrested three days later, insisted the shooting was an accident caused by “two very drunk individuals playing with a loaded gun,” according to defense filings.

Schifferns pleaded guilty to deliberate homicide in March but later sought to withdraw that admission, saying his depression and mental health problems made him involuntarily admit the charge. 

Wald denied the request, finding Schifferns had made the plea voluntarily, and that his arguments to the contrary did not meet the necessary legal requirements.

At sentencing, Schifferns reasserted his claim that he had pleaded guilty involuntarily, Nixon said.

The prosecutor said he expected an appeal, but none had been filed as of Monday.

Schifferns’ attorney, Gregory Paskell, did not immediately return a request for comment.

McGregor’s pastor, Lee Merck, of Church of the Rockies, said enough time had passed since McGregor’s death that “most people have been able to kind of come to some resolution.” He declined to comment further.

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Justice Reporter

Justice reporter for the Billings Gazette.