28 year-old Jonathan Bertsch, the man who has pleaded guilty to killing two people and critically wounding two others on March 14 and 15, 2019, underwent a fitness evaluation pre-sentencing hearing on Friday before District Judge Shane Vannatta.
Deputy County Attorney and chief prosecutor in the case, Jordan Kilby explained what occurred in Friday’s hearing.
“His attorney brought up the issue of whether he was fit to proceed at the time that he entered his guilty plea and whether he is currently fit to proceed and as such, the judge ordered an evaluation,” said Kilby. “However, he refused to cooperate with the evaluation, and so we needed to have that addressed by the court today to see what we could do moving forward, because that issue has to be resolved before we can make a determination about sentencing.”
Kilby said the alternative to a private evaluation could take months to complete, while the surviving victims of the shootings wait for Bertsch to finally receive his sentence.
“Essentially, if he does not participate in an evaluation with a private evaluator, the judge will commit him to the state hospital for an evaluation as is allowed by the law,” she said. “That process takes a very long time because as you can imagine, the state hospital is taxed and there is a waiting list for those evaluations. And so we are really just trying to get this done as quickly as possible while at the same time making sure that we follow the law and make sure we have a good idea of what his fitness situation looks like.”
The next hearing before Judge Vannatta was set for November 19, and Kilby hopes the end will be in sight following that hearing.
“My hope is that we will have a determination on his fitness at that time and the minimum is 30 days,” she said. “My guess with the holidays is that it won’t be until January if we are prepared, and if he is able to go to sentencing at that time.”
In June, Bertsch appeared before Judge Vannatta to plead guilty to all charges.
28 year-old Jonathan Bertsch pleaded guilty to shooting one person to death on March 14, 2019 and then critically wounding MHP Trooper Wade Palmer early on the morning of March 15. A second victim later died from her wounds.
Vannatta asked counsel for Bertsch to enumerate the charges.
“Mr. Bertsch, with regard to count one, would you agree that on March 14, 2019 in Missoula County that you purposefully and knowingly caused the death of Shelley Hays by shooting him?” he asked.
“Yes, sir,” said Bertsch.
“With regard to count two, would you agree that on March 14, 2019 in Missoula County that with the purpose to commit homicide that you shot Julie Blanchard with a gun?” he asked.
“Yes, sir,” he said.
“In regards to count three, you agree that on March 14, 2019 in Missoula County that with the purpose to commit homicide that you shot Kasey Blanchard?” he asked.
“Yes, sir,” said Bertsch.
“With regards to count four, do you agree that on March 15th 2019 in Missoula County, that you shot Trooper Wade Palmer with the purpose to commit homicide?” he asked.
“Yes, sir,” he answered.
There were victims from the incident in 2019 who watched and listened to the ZOOM hearing.
Bertsch was returned to the Missoula County Jail after the fitness evaluation hearing.