HELENA — Evidence gathered by investigators of the fatal shooting of an apparent burglar by a Helena-area homeowner Wednesday so far matches the account given by the shooter, according to Lewis and Clark County Sheriff Leo Dutton.
Dutton confirmed that the shooter and homeowner is James Stiffler, 66.
“Right now there’s nothing to indicate that the details provided by Mr. Stiffler are not accurate,” Dutton said Thursday afternoon, shortly after meeting with Stiffler.
Also Thursday, County Coroner Mickey Nelson identified the deceased man as Henry Thomas Johnson III, 37, of Helena, and said he died from a single gunshot wound to the chest.
On the scene Wednesday shortly after the shooting, a deputy said the homeowner arrived at his home near the intersection of Canyon Ferry Road and Ranger Drive to find a suspicious vehicle parked outside.
He entered the home, encountered an intruder and shot him in the chest, according to the deputy. Johnson managed to flee the home out a window, only to crash his Ford Taurus into a fence.
He was found dead in the car a short time later by emergency responders.
Dutton said Stiffler brought the weapon into the house from his car.
He declined to indicate the type of firearm, number of shots fired or various other details about the encounter, but said he believed Stiffler was not at fault in the shooting.
He said Stiffler has been extremely cooperative with investigators.
“I’ve known him for quite some time and he’s an upstanding person,” Dutton said. “He’s not taking it lightly.”
A person answering a phone number listed for Stiffler declined to comment Thursday.
Deputies continued investigating the scene Thursday and also were checking into at least seven burglaries in the area in which they believe Johnson may have been involved.
They are also searching Johnson’s residence and questioning his associates. Dutton said investigators are interested in whether he was acting alone or with others in any of the suspected crimes.
Stiffler’s home had a large sign in front of it indicating it is for sale. An online listing indicates it is a 4,000-square-foot home for sale for $439,900.
Johnson’s history, criminal or otherwise, was not immediately clear Thursday afternoon. Helena Municipal Court had a warrant for his arrest, but local district court files indicate no local felony charges or involvement in any civil cases.
The Montana Department of Corrections website also has no record of Johnson being involved with that department.