Seeley Swan Pathfinder
January 21, 1999
John C. Lawhead, a former short-time Seeley Lake area resident, has been sentenced to five years in the Deer Lodge State Prison for negligent homicide in the death of his wife by 10th District Judge John Christensen in Lewistown.
Lawhead received a total sentence of 30 years with an additional five years for one count of perjury and 20 years on two counts of tampering with evidence, according to a Jan. 6, 1999 article by Kristen Torgerson of the Lewistown News-Argus.
Of the 30 years, 15 years were suspended, Lawhead gets credit for 185 days served and 15 years probation. He will be eligible for parole in approximately two years and eight months, according to the News-Argus article.
The sentencing came after 10 hours of hearings on Monday, Jan. 4, 1999, where the defense called several witnesses who testified that Nancy S. Lawhead was a difficult woman to deal with, with apparent mental problems stemming from a mental breakdown in 1987 for which she was hospitalized.
Lawhead had originally been charged with deliberate homicide and other charges that were reduced in a plea agreement.
According to a confession he made when questioned July 4, 1998, Lawhead said he accidentally fired a second shot into his wife's head on May 2 in a struggle for a gun he said she had used to shoot herself.
In testimony at the hearing, Lawhead said his wife awakened him about 1 a.m. the night of May 2, 1997, shot herself in the head with an unregistered .22 caliber pistol and continued to struggle with him over the gun when a second shot went off into her head.
Lawhead panicked, thinking the police "wouldn't understand," according to the News-Argus article, and buried his wife in a shallow grave in Choteau County the next day and threw the weapon into a creek.
In September 1997 he and his two young children moved to the Seeley Lake area where he took a job at the Pyramid sawmill operation and rented a place near Holland Lake. In May 1998 he returned to his wife's gravesite, exhumed the remains and cremated them in a 55 gallon metal barrel near his rented home in the Seeley Lake area.
He was stopped for questioning on July 4, 1998 when he returned to the Lewistown area and confessed to his involvement in his wife's death.