Bertsch Pleads Guilty to Two Murders – Shooting Trooper Palmer
In Missoula District Court on Friday before Judge Shane Vannata, 28 year-old Jonathan Bertsch pleaded guilty to shooting one person to death on March 14, 2019 and then critically wounding MHP Trooper Wade Palmer early on the morning of March 15.
A second victim later died from her wounds.
Vannata asked counsel for Bertsch to enumerate the charges.
“Mr. Bertsch, with regard to count one, would you agree that on March 14, 2019 in Missoula County that you purposefully and knowingly caused the death of Shelley Hays by shooting him?” he asked.
“Yes, sir,” said Bertsch.
“With regard to count two, would you agree that on March 14, 2019 in Missoula County that with the purpose to commit homicide that you shot Julie Blanchard with a gun?” he asked.
“Yes, sir,” he said.
“In regards to count three, you agree that on March 14, 2019 in Missoula County that with the purpose to commit homicide that you shot Kasey Blanchard?” he asked.
“Yes, sir,” said Bertsch.
“With regards to count four, do you agree that on March 15th 2019 in Missoula County, that you shot Trooper Wade Palmer with the purpose to commit homicide?” he asked.
“Yes, sir,” he answered.
Judge Vannata spoke directly to Bertsch and asked him if he understood the gravity of the charges and that by pleading guilty that he could be sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of release.
Bertsch replied simply ‘Yes, sir.”
A trial for Bertsch had been scheduled for July, however, with this change of plea Judge Vannata scheduled a status hearing on August 31 to be followed by sentencing.
Deputy County Attorney Jordan Kilby asked the judge to allow those who want to be in the courtroom at sentencing to be present, but that the courtroom would be packed which would not comply with social distancing guidelines. Judge Vannata said the court would consider a change of venue for Bertsch’s sentencing to accommodate the prosecution’s request.
The night of terror began with a road rage incident at a local bar that ended with three people being shot, two fatally, and two others gravely wounded. Julie Blanchard eventually died due to complications from her wounds.
Kasey Blanchard survived his wounds, but is in a wheelchair.
Montana Highway Patrol Trooper Wade Palmer was critically wounded after being shot three times in the head and neck by Bertsch near the Evaro Bar early in the morning of March 15.
He was treated initially at St. Patrick Hospital and then transferred to Salt Lake City for specialized treatment. Palmer returned home several months later and is receiving therapy for his injuries.