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Life sentence for man who killed people helping him

Aug 11, 2017 By Matthew Brown, Associated Press

BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) -- A judge sentenced a 20-year-old man to life in prison Thursday for killing a couple who stopped to help him alongside a road on Montana's Crow Indian Reservation.

U.S. District Judge Susan Watters said Jesus Deniz Mendoza represented a lasting menace to society because of his inability to control the "demons" of mental illness and drug use that he blamed for the killings.

The sentencing comes days after the close-knit Crow reservation along the Montana-Wyoming border was again wracked by violence. Three people were killed and two others wounded by gunfire last week at a house in Lodge Grass.

Mendoza of Worland, Wyoming, pleaded guilty to shooting Jason and Tana Shane in the back of the head on the side of a road after they stopped to help him with apparent car problems on the reservation in 2015.

He shot the couple's grown daughter in the back as she was running away and fired or pointed his rifle at several other people who tried to help the family.

"I hope he dies in prison so the Lord can take care of him," Jason Shane's brother, Robert, testified during Thursday's hearing. "I wouldn't call him a man. I call him a coward."

Defense attorney David Merchant II asked for a 60-year sentence. Prosecutors said Mendoza would kill again if he were released from prison.

Merchant had argued that a shorter sentence would be merciful given that Mendoza was 18 at the time of the shootings, has schizophrenia and a history of drug abuse, and was physically and sexually abused as a child in his native Mexico.

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