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James Stiffler answers questions

James Stiffler answers questions while giving his testimony, during his trial in the Lewis and Clark County Courthouse in February 2016. 

A little over two years ago, James George Stiffler of Helena was on trial for deliberate homicide after shooting and killing a burglar in his home on Canyon Ferry Road. 

Earlier this week, Stiffler attended a gathering of the Lewis and Clark County Young Republicans to tell his side of the story and defend the right to use deadly force. 

Stiffler's 2016 homicide trial ended in a hung jury, which means jurors could not come to a consensus on whether the shooting was legally justified or not. Stiffler's defense attorney has said two jurors believed he was guilty and the other 10 believed he was innocent. 

Lewis and Clark County Attorney Leo Gallagher dropped the homicide charge shortly after the judge declared a mistrial. 

"I don't expect a different result if we try it again," he said at the time, adding that this approach "seems to be the appropriate resolution."

Prosecutors said Stiffler murdered 37-year-old Thomas Johnson in 2013, arguing that the burglar posed no threat and was climbing out a window to escape when he was fatally shot in the back. Stiffler's defense attorneys argued the self-defense shooting was a justified use of force, and that the other man brought his death upon himself.

During his appearance Monday at Bert and Ernie's in Helena, Stiffler told the Young Republicans he was defending himself from a criminal in his own home. Stiffler said he was "in danger of my life," and the other man was half his age and twice his size. 

His talk was part of what the Young Republicans hoped would be a conversation about gun-control positions attributed to "the left."

“If I didn’t have my firearm with me, I probably wouldn’t be here tonight to tell you this story,” Stiffler told the half-dozen people gathered on the top balcony of the restaurant. 

Stiffler emphasized that the man he killed was a convicted criminal in “multiple states," who allegedly told other prison inmates that he planned to break into a house and "leave no one alive." 

So why did two jurors vote to convict him of deliberate homicide? Stiffler blamed what the "educational service is doing to our kids."

He also said he believes the county attorney's decision to prosecute him was politically motivated. 

“He’s sending a message to not use a firearm to protect yourself, your loved ones," Stiffler said. 

Stiffler noted that “four or five” similar cases in the area were not prosecuted.

“Looking at it pragmatically through the prism of five years, I think what’s happened is that the message the county attorney is trying to send, that he’d ruin you financially, did not get through,” Stiffler said. 

When asked why no one is running against Gallagher in this year's election, Stiffler said “I think that nobody wants the job.”

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Reporter

Reporter at the Helena Independent Record.

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