A sheriff says a Bozeman man sentenced to 10 years in prison Tuesday for threatening Montana District Judge Ray Dayton and others belongs behind bars but could still kill someday.
“You may have heard it here in court after the sentencing — he said something about killing,” Powell County Sheriff Scott Howard told reporters after 36-year-old Josiah Wright was handed over to Montana State Prison officials.
“I didn’t catch it all, but he fantasizes about that,” Howard said. “He is going to act that out someday, somewhere.”
Wright was relatively calm Tuesday and took the stand on his own behalf before District Judge Kurt Krueger sentenced him to 10 years in the Montana State Prison.
He was animated during previous hearings, trying to talk over Krueger and at one point yelling “You guys are a joke!” He mostly mumbled when not on the stand Tuesday as armed officers stood nearby.
Howard said Wright, who had been in jail for 134 days prior to sentencing, constantly threatened jail staff and was the most difficult inmate he has dealt with in his 33 years as sheriff.
“He would sleep for short periods of time and then he would go off the wall again making threats,” Howard said. “His threats escalated and escalated and escalated.”
Wright was charged with numerous stalking and intimidation felonies for threatening Dayton and state prison and mental hospital employees through emails and phone calls. The cases were brought in Powell and Anaconda-Deer Lodge counties but transferred to Krueger’s court in Butte for security and conflict reasons.
Wright was involuntarily committed to Montana State Hospital in Warm Springs by Dayton in Powell County in late 2017. His threats against the judge included such statements as “You haven't seen MY courtroom YET" and "Dayton, I will see you soon," prosecutors allege.
Wright ultimately pleaded guilty to two felony counts of stalking and one misdemeanor count of intimidation, saying in court Tuesday, “I didn’t have a choice.”
His public defender, Ed Sheehy, said Wright suffers from serious psychological disorders that likely include paranoid schizophrenia and does not like women or people who are not white.
But he said the state’s mental health system had failed his client and although his attitudes toward women and non-whites weren’t likely to change, he could get help for his mental disorders with proper treatment.
He urged Krueger to give his client a five-year probationary term in the custody of state mental health workers but also suggested that he could live in Butte and get beneficial services here.
“I think we need to give this man a chance,” Sheehy said. “I don’t think he presents a danger that people think he does.”
While on the stand, Wright acknowledged that while in state custody, he would refuse anti-psychotic medications or spit out the pills when staff wasn’t looking. When not in custody, he said, he would seek help but not receive it.
He was upset when he threatened the judge and others, he said, but could live safely in the community.
“I won’t hurt anybody,” he said. “I just want to breathe the air. Find some peace.”
Krueger said Wright had “pages and pages” of only misdemeanor crimes before the recent incidents but said the threats and recent behavior posed real dangers.
Wright not only caused Dayton and the state workers anguish and anxiety and forced Dayton to get armed security, Krueger said, but he had also threatened detention officers daily while in jail.
He sentenced Wright to five years for each of the felony stalking counts and said they would run back to back. He imposed a one-year jail term on the intimidation count, but it runs concurrent to the other sentences.
Wright was cuffed and his ankles shackled Tuesday, but Howard and two other Powell County officers were in court to make sure nothing happened. He was handed directly over to prison officials afterward.
“I assure you they will have to isolate this man because he is a threat to others, he is a threat to himself,” Howard said. “He can’t make it on the streets, he can’t make it in the prison world, he can’t walk the yard, he can’t go to the chow hall.
“He can’t do any of those things,” he said. “He’s nonfunctional, but he’s street-smart enough to be a high risk to kill people.”