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The Montana Board of Pardons and Parole denied parole Tuesday for a woman convicted of fatally shooting her boyfriend in Butte in 2009, citing the severity of the crime as a key reason.

The board also noted that Verna Elaine Bell had previously committed a similar violent crime and ruled that she won’t be eligible for parole again until 2025, board member Darrell Bell told The Montana Standard. The previous victim, Verna Bell’s husband, lived.

Prosecutor Samm Cox said he and family members of Richard G. Hoffmann III, who was shot and killed by Verna Bell in 2009, appeared before the board via video conference Tuesday and argued against parole.

“Richard Hoffmann was a respected member of the community and a beloved son and brother,” Cox said in a text to the Standard. “He was the second male involved in a relationship with the defendant (who) she shot. Both times she claimed abuse by the victim, which was disproven in Hoffmann’s case.”

Cox did not prosecute the previous case.

Verna Bell admitted to fatally shooting Hoffmann, her 41-year-old boyfriend at the time, from behind with a .25-caliber handgun in their East 2nd Street home in July 2009. He was transported to St. James Healthcare, where he died in the emergency room.

District Judge Kurt Krueger later sentenced Bell to 40 years in the Montana Women’s Prison. She was 46 at the time.

According to prosecutors, Bell told police she shot Hoffmann because she was "tired of the abuse." However, when an officer asked her about the abuse that day, she reportedly said "it was only verbal abuse tonight."

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Bell reportedly told police she kept the gun next to her head when she slept. Bell said she and Hoffmann both ran down the stairs and "it just happened," according to a charging affidavit.

It was Bell's second conviction involving a shooting. She pleaded guilty to felony criminal endangerment for shooting her then-husband, Mark Lemler, on May 3, 1992, in Butte. Lemler survived, and Bell received a five-year suspended sentence in that shooting.

Cox said that during Tuesday’s hearing, Bell told the parole board that she had taken several training courses and had learned to make better choices.

“She did not have a detailed parole plan nor any assurances in our opinion that she would be safe to be returned to the community,” Cox said. “Her history dictates that simple training is not enough.”

The parole board suggested Tuesday that Bell complete various prison programs, including one on victim impact.

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Government and politics reporter

Mike Smith is a reporter at the Montana Standard with an emphasis on government and politics.

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