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Stiffler homicide trial begins in Helena
Stiffler homicide trial gets underway

Stiffler homicide trial begins in Helena

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Following an exhaustive day of questioning Monday, a jury is in place in the homicide trial for a Helena-area man who killed an alleged home intruder. 

Just before 6 p.m., a jury of seven women and five men was named. Opening arguments are set to begin Tuesday morning in the fatal shooting case. 

James George Stiffler was charged with felony deliberate homicide in April 2015. The court has set aside two weeks for the trial.

The jury, which includes two alternates, was whittled down from about 130 potential jurors who reported for duty Monday morning. 

Prosecutors say Stiffler shot Henry Thomas Johnson in the back on May 22, 2013 as Johnson attempted to flee the home through a window. 

Lewis and Clark County Attorney Leo Gallagher told the jury pool the issue at hand is justifiable use of force. Much of his questioning and that of the defense revolved around that issue along with general knowledge of firearms and the law. 

Stiffler has not denied shooting and killing Johnson but through his attorneys said "he was left with no choice but to fire his weapon." His attorneys say Stiffler expects the jury will find the shooting was justified by Johnson’s “threatening and felonious acts.”

Stiffler called 911 about 2:40 p.m. that day to report he shot and killed a home intruder, who was later identified as Johnson, charging documents state. Stiffler told investigators he arrived at his home on Canyon Ferry Road to find the door open, a strange car in the driveway and an unknown man inside. Stiffler armed himself with a pistol from his pickup truck and went into his house.

When he saw Johnson heading for the back door, Stiffler told him to stop, according to the account in the affidavit. Stiffler told investigators that Johnson then moved toward him threateningly, and Stiffler fired his pistol. At that point, Johnson allegedly turned and fled out a window in an adjacent room.

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