Calling her a repeat violent offender, a judge sentenced a woman to 15 years in the Montana Women’s Prison on Tuesday for shooting at a bouncer at the Acoma Lounge in Uptown Butte, sending a bullet through his shirts without striking his body.
“The defendant has demonstrated that she is a danger to the citizens of Butte,” District Judge Kurt Krueger said to Sarah Rose Baldwin, 33. “In her drunken state, she barely missed killing four people.”
Moments before, Baldwin used crutches to join her attorney at the podium and apologized for the events of Nov. 12, 2017.
“I am sorry for everything I have caused,” she said, crying, before turning to Charles Ruppert, the father of the bouncer who was nearly shot, and saying, “I’m sorry.”
The bouncer, Austin Ruppert, has since moved to San Diego but said in a videotaped statement that he started failing his classes at Montana Tech, began drinking more and has sought counseling because of that night.
“Sarah, you tried to murder me,” he said. “You can say what you want, but that’s what you did. You changed my whole life.”
Prosecutors say Baldwin was passed out at the bar at 60 E. Broadway St. near closing time on Nov. 12, 2017, when Ruppert tried to get her and a boyfriend to leave.
He said Baldwin went to the women’s restroom and when he knocked on the door telling her to leave once again, she came out, produced a pistol and shot at him. He thought he had been hit and went to the ground.
A female bartender started wrestling with Baldwin in the stairway, another shot went off, and she and others got the gun away from Baldwin. Ruppert showed police where the bullet went through two shirts he was wearing without striking him. The other bullet lodged in drywall by the stairway.
Prosecutors initially charged Baldwin with attempted deliberate homicide, three counts of felony criminal endangerment and two misdemeanor firearms charges. Attempted deliberate homicide in Montana carries the same maximum penalties as deliberate homicide — death or up to life in prison.
But in a deal with prosecutors, Baldwin pleaded guilty to assault with a weapon, one count of criminal endangerment and two misdemeanors — carrying a concealed weapon while under the influence and carrying a concealed weapon in a prohibited place.
The convictions carry a maximum combined sentence of up to 31 years behind bars and fines of up to $101,000. Assault with a weapon alone is punishable by up to 20 years and a $50,000 fine.
Mike Clague, the lead prosecutor in the case, recommended Tuesday that Baldwin get 20 years in prison for the assault with a weapon charge, with five of those years suspended. He recommended 10 years and six months on the other counts, suspended and running concurrent to the 15-year sentence.
Clague said that in 2009 Baldwin went into a bar and slashed a bartender with a knife, claiming then that she had post-traumatic stress disorder. She got a deferred sentence for that. She also was convicted of DUI in 2010, showing a continuing problem with alcohol, he said.
Prosecutors say the second bullet could have struck the bartender and two others inside the bar and all have suffered anxiety and other problems because of it.
“She continues to make victims with weapons in our community,” Clague said. “Accountability also has empathy with it, but she has never showed any empathy to her victims.”
Charles Ruppert told Krueger that his son has nightmares, among other issues, because of that night.
“I hope Sarah understands that this has changed his life forever,” he said.
In previous court filings, Baldwin’s attorney — Matthew Enrooth of Butte — said Sarah was prepared to testify that “she was ripped out of the bathroom and thrown to the floor by an unknown female prior to the shooting, leading her to believe that she could not defend herself without use of a weapon.”
He told Krueger on Tuesday that after talking with his client, she acknowledged that even under those circumstances, she responded with force that wasn’t justified.
“She has accepted responsibility for her actions,” he said.
Enrooth said she had diabetes that required an insulin pump and it was unclear if the Women’s Prison would accept her. He urged Krueger to give her a 20-year suspended sentence for the weapon’s charge and 10 years, six months on the other convictions, also suspended.
But Krueger said Baldwin had been convicted of prior alcohol-related offenses before this one and had not addressed her problem. And she drank all day before the shooting incident, he said.
“You are a repeat violent offender,” he said.
He gave her 20 years with five suspended on the weapons charge and 10 years and six months on the other counts, to run concurrent with the first sentence. That amounts to 15 years of prison time.