MISSOULA — Johnathan Bertsch, who admitted to fatally shooting two people and seriously wounding two others, was sentenced in a Missoula courtroom on Wednesday afternoon.
Bertsch will be serving life in prison without parole at the Montana State Prison for killing Shelley Hays and Julie Blanchard in an apparent road rage incident in March of 2019.
The shootings — which took place in Missoula and Evaro — also seriously injured now-retired Montana Highway Patrol Trooper Wade Palmer and Casey Blanchard.
Missoula Judge Shane Vannatta handed down the decision of four life sentences without parole following an emotional two-day sentencing trial.
Casey Blanchard, his fiancé, and his brother, watched the hearing, and two courtrooms were packed with law enforcement officers and friends and family of the victims.
The first shooting was on March 14, 2019, when Bertsch shot Hays and wounded Casey Blanchard and Casey's mother Julie along Expressway Boulevard in Missoula. Several hours later, Bertsch ambushed MHP Trooper Palmer after he pulled him over along US Highway 93 in Evaro.
Bertsch was arrested later that night as Trooper Palmer began the fight for his life which would take him to Utah and back home again in May 2019.
In June of 2019, Julie Blanchard died from her injuries. In November of 2019 — despite his near-fatal gunshot wounds — Casey Blanchard returned to work.
In July 2020, Trooper Palmer retired from the Montana Highway Patrol following an eight-year career.
Bertsch underwent two mental health evaluations, ordered in August and October of 2020, before being found fit to proceed with sentencing in March of 2021.
During the sentencing, Bertsch’s father Burton outlined his son’s upbringing, the suicide of his son's mother, and his son bullied in school: “Months before this happened, upset about them, why’d they do this, why’d they do this to me, and he just apparently lost it, finally.”
He continued, “That’s what started it. This wouldn’t have happened. Even though way overboard what he did. He should’ve never done something like that, and I never thought he would do something like that. Why did he have to bully my son again? My son didn’t do nothing to him, my son didn’t. And all those innocent people my son hurt because of that.”
Bertsch's sister Julie described violence in the family and said Bertsch changed after he got diagnosed with autism.
Also on Wednesday, the defense revealed Bertsch attempted suicide while in jail earlier this year.
“I noted that Johnathan appeared to be easily distracted, as evidenced by him asking what after most questions,” said therapist Jenna Marceau. “He had difficulty making eye contact with me, and I noticed he was squinting a lot while he was looking at me.”
Lindsey Palmer, the wife of Trooper Palmer said, "Bertsch's actions that night altered the path that my family was on and has forever altered our lives. Because he chose to shoot people in cold blood with no remorse for his actions whatsoever. During all of the court proceedings I have watched, I have absolutely seen no remorse. I have no doubt that if this person ever gets out of jail, he will do the same to other families. He has handed down a life sentence to each one of these victims in one way or another."