James Arthur Couture was better known by his nickname: "Weasel."

He lived in Brookston, was a member of the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa and worked a number of jobs on the reservation. The 65-year-old was a husband and father of six, with numerous grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

Coming from a big family that included 13 children, Couture was always there to support his extended relatives, niece Kim Seacord said Monday.

"We have seen a lot of death in the family," Seacord told a judge. "But never in a million years did I think that a family member would be murdered, much less Weasel."

Family members may not have received a satisfying explanation of Couture's final moments, or a sentence that could offer much relief. But they expressed hope that the finality of courtroom proceedings could at least turn a page in the grieving process.

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A socially distanced crowd looked on as Judge Sally Tarnowski sentenced Couture's killer, Thomas Allen Micklewright, to just over seven years in prison for fatally shooting his friend after an argument broke out during a night of drinking at the defendant's rural Cloquet home in November 2019.

Micklewright, who has been free since days after the killing, declined to address the court before he was placed in handcuffs and led off to immediately begin serving the guideline term for first-degree manslaughter.

PREVIOUSLY: Rural Cloquet man pleads guilty to fatally shooting friend

Micklewright, 45, relinquished his earlier self-defense claim at a March 30 plea hearing, acknowledging there was no justification for shooting Couture, who he was hosting at his home, 3521 Brevator Road, on the Fond du Lac Reservation, in the early morning of Nov. 9, 2019.

The defendant testified that they were having cocktails, watching TV and socializing before an "exchange of words" broke out. He implied the victim had insulted him and his wife, though he did not elaborate on the argument.

Micklewright said Couture shoved him to the kitchen floor and he responded by retrieving his handgun from the kitchen table. The defendant stated that he was still on his knees when he fired the shot at his friend, who was standing.

Micklewright's wife called 911 around 5 a.m. to report the shooting. The defendant admitted during the course of the call that he intentionally shot Couture with a .40-caliber pistol, but authorities said he would not otherwise elaborate on the circumstances at the time.

Couture was pronounced dead in the kitchen. No weapons were found on his person or in the vicinity, according to court documents. The men's wives were both believed to be asleep at the time of the shooting, the St. Louis County Sheriff's Office previously reported.

St. Louis County prosecutor Jessica Fralich indicated the account given by Micklewright at his plea hearing was inconsistent with the findings of a medical examiner, who determined the bullet was fired from a downward trajectory. However, Micklewright conceded that his recollection may have been flawed due to his excessive use of alcohol and the heightened emotions involved in the incident.

Court documents state that Micklewright had a blood-alcohol concentration of 0.20 — which is 2.5 times the legal limit for driving — when a preliminary breath test was taken about six hours after the shooting. Couture was found to have a level of 0.27 at the time of his death, Fralich said.

PREVIOUSLY: Charges: Rural Cloquet man admitted to killing friend, but wouldn't say why

Micklewright's guilty plea was entered as part of an agreement with prosecutors on the day he was set to stand trial. He was initially charged with unintentional second-degree murder and would have faced a presumptive sentence of approximately 12 ½ years if convicted.

Fralich acknowledged Monday that Couture's family wasn't left satisfied by the 86-month prison term, but she said "the guidelines are what the guidelines are" and that there was no basis to seek an aggravated sentence.

"No one on that side is sitting there happy about it today," Fralich said. "It leaves a hole that they can't fill, especially when a life is taken under such tragic circumstances."

Some sobs could be heard from both Couture and Micklewright's families as Tarnowski formally imposed the prison term and concluded the case.

"Certainly, the events of that morning are tragic, and I have no magic words to make anyone feel better," the judge said. "We can't bring him back. I hope the finality allows you to work through the grief."

Seacord, the lone representative to speak for the victim's family, said the incident has caused lingering trauma, including a loss of trust, even among close friends.

Following her uncle's death, Seacord said she decided to adopt a highway in his memory. Little did she know, the county would assign a section of Brevator Road mere feet from the scene of Couture's death, where Micklewright still lives.

"My mission is to make sure he is never forgotten," Seacord said.