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Tribal court finds Wolf Point man guilty of murder after feds decline to prosecute
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Tribal court finds Wolf Point man guilty of murder after feds decline to prosecute

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A Wolf Point man has been convicted of murder in Fort Peck Tribal Court after the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Montana declined to prosecute him for fatally shooting another man in July.

A jury on March 5 found Chance Martell, 23, guilty in the killing of Wolf Point resident Roger Bissonette, 47, at Martell’s home. His sentencing is scheduled for Thursday.

Tribal police responded July 27 to a shooting in the reservation town and found Martell, still carrying a gun, and witnesses who were shouting that he had shot Bissonette, according to charges filed by Fort Peck Tribal Prosecutor Scott Seifert.

Bissonette died at the scene from two .22 caliber gunshot wounds to the chest, according to the charges. The shooting was investigated by the FBI and the Fort Peck Tribal Police.

Federal prosecutors declined in January to file charges against Martell, according to a statement released Tuesday by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Montana.

“As in all cases under its consideration, the responsibility of the U.S. Attorney’s Office is to determine whether it can prove all elements of a federal crime beyond a reasonable doubt,” the statement read. “In this case, we could not prove any crime was committed when the shooter used deadly force in a dispute with Mr. Bissonette.”

The FBI on Monday referred inquiries about the incident to the U.S. Attorney’s Office. In an earlier statement released to the Wolf Point Herald after the shooting, the FBI confirmed it was investigating a “possible homicide,” along with tribal police.

Tribal prosecutors were able to convince the jury that Bissonette was lured to Martell’s residence and had not posed a threat before Martell shot him with a rifle in his front lawn, Seifert said Tuesday. The pair had fought earlier in the day, he said, but Bissonette was unarmed when he arrived later that night.

“It looked like it was going to be a mutual fight again, but it didn’t end up that way,” Seifert said. “That was our argument, that it was essentially planned.”

He noted that the tribe does not have a “stand your ground” type law, and needed to demonstrate to the jury only that Martell had provoked the attack.

Typically, felonies prosecuted by the Fort Peck Sioux and Assiniboine Tribes can carry a maximum sentence of one year in jail and a $5,000 fine, according to the tribes' Comprehensive Code of Justice.

Seifert, however, said he intends to pursue an “enhanced punishment” during sentencing that could send Martell to jail for up to three years, with a maximum fine of $15,000.

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