A Bayfield County man will stand trial Monday for allegedly killing his uncle and wounding his cousin in a April 2018 shooting at his father's residence in rural Carlton County.
James Francis Montano, 34, faces mandatory life imprisonment without the possibility of parole if convicted of premeditated first-degree murder in the slaying of 56-year-old Andrew James Gokee, a member of the Red Cliff Band of Lake Superior Chippewa and a well-known Native American leader in Wisconsin.
Montano also faces four lesser charges, including second-degree murder, attempted murder and assault, related to the shooting of Gokee and the victim's son, Hudson Gauthier, at the property on the southwest edge of the Fond du Lac Reservation, west of Sawyer.
Defense attorneys have indicated they will argue that it was Gauthier who was responsible for killing his own father. The 39-year-old Stevens Point, Wis., man has not faced any charges in connection with the case.
The trial is scheduled to last up to three weeks at the Carlton County Courthouse. A jury is expected to be picked this week, with testimony beginning Jan. 13. A verdict is anticipated during the week of Jan. 20.
Authorities: Shooting came without warning
According to court documents, James Montano, Gokee and Gauthier were all staying at Michael Montano's residence at 4020 Kari Road on April 20, 2018. Gokee made plans to leave that night to go see his girlfriend in Wisconsin, dropping off Gauthier at Black Bear Casino along the way.
Prosecutors said James and Michael Montano were completing some work in an outbuilding as Gokee prepared to leave. Gauthier went there to speak with Michael Montano, who agreed to pick him up from the casino later that night.
Gauthier told deputies that he and his father were walking to Gokee's car when the shooting occurred around 11:30 p.m. According to documents, Montano "suddenly stood up at one end of the vehicle and pointed a gun at Gauthier."
Thinking it was a prank, Gauthier told Montano that he scared them, to which the defendant replied: "This (isn't) a f---ing joke." Authorities said Montano then fired, but Gauthier managed to duck enough to sustain only a graze wound.
Montano then allegedly walked around the vehicle and shot Gokee in the head before giving chase to Gauthier, who yelled for help. Eventually, Michael Montano came out of the house and saw his son standing over Gauthier, who was on the ground. Michael Montano yelled for James to leave and went back into the house to call 911, telling a dispatcher that his son had just shot his brother-in-law.
Gauthier, meanwhile, ran back to his father, realizing he was in severe trauma, according to court documents. He told police that he then went into the residence to retrieve a handgun..
As he came back outside, Gauthier reported that Montano, apparently still armed but standing a "fair distance away," began walking toward him and his father. Gauthier said he fired a warning shot at Montano but he continued to approach. He then fired a second shot, which apparently struck Montano in the upper chest.
Authorities said Montano retreated into the woods as police sirens could be heard. He was arrested about 300 yards from the shooting scene after an extensive ground and air search. He was treated and released from a hospital.
Defense: Montano not responsible for killing
Montano was indicted by a grand jury on the premeditated murder charge in March 2019. But grand jury proceedings are held in private, and authorities to this point have not publicly identified a suspected motive or other evidence of premeditation.
Sixth Judicial District Judge Leslie Beiers approved a motion from Montano's attorneys to introduce evidence of an alternative perpetrator. According to court documents, the defense expects Michael Montano to testify that Gauthier "was always asking for money" and "asked for his father's belongings and asked about how long it would take to get life insurance proceeds."
Beiers also granted a prosecution motion to admit evidence that James Montano, Michael Montano and Hudson Gauthier used methamphetamine the night of the shootings. James Montano, specifically, had smoked meth only 30 to 40 minutes before the incident, according to court documents.
Prosecutors said the alleged drug use "has a tendency to prove (James Montano) was the person who shot Gokee and Gauthier and the context in which he did so."
Defense attorneys objected, arguing it "does not directly prove or disprove an issue or fact in this case," but that it may, in fact, show that James Montano was legally incapable of forming the requisite intent for premeditated murder.
"The use of methamphetamine shortly before the alleged crime by (the) defendant and the only two other surviving individuals at the scene is relevant because it shows the state of mind of those individuals throughout the night," Beiers wrote in an order. "This information is consequential in assisting credibility determinations and explaining the actions of the individuals."
The case is being prosecuted by Assistant Minnesota Attorney General Matthew Frank, Carlton County Attorney Lauri Ketola and Assistant County Attorney Jeffrey Boucher.
Montano is represented by public defenders Nicole Bettendorf-Hopps and Joanna Wiegert.