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Judge approves final agreement in Helena negligent homicide case

Posted at 8:07 PM, Apr 15, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-16 10:22:51-04

A Lewis and Clark County judge has given final approval to an agreement resolving the last issues in a Helena negligent homicide case.

Gregg Trude pleaded guilty to negligent homicide last September in the shooting death of Dr. Eugene “Buzz” Walton. The two men were returning from a hunting trip on Oct. 28, 2018. Walton was pulling his rifle out of the back seat of Trude’s truck when Trude’s rifle went off.

In October, District Court Judge Michael McMahon sentenced Trude to 20 years in prison, with all but 3 ½ years suspended.

On Wednesday, McMahon approved an agreement between Trude’s defense and prosecutors.

As part of the agreement, Trude withdrew his motions to disqualify McMahon and to change his guilty plea. He had challenged the judge’s impartiality after McMahon stated he had known Walton.

In exchange, Trude will be given the ability to seek parole or a review of his sentence. McMahon had originally said Trude would not be eligible for parole until he served a full 3 ½ years.

Under the agreement, prosecutors will not appear in opposition at Trude’s parole or sentence review hearing. If he receives parole or a reduced sentence, Trude agrees to spend 500 hours on a hunter safety course or other form of community service.

The agreement also calls for Trude to pay more than $3.7 million in restitution to Walton’s wife, Leslie. He will forfeit his firearms, ammunition and a motorcycle to be resold, with the proceeds going toward that restitution.

According to court documents, Leslie Walton opposed the agreement. She and her children will still be allowed to oppose parole or sentence review.

Last week, a retired judge who reviewed Trude’s case found McMahon had not violated the Montana Code of Judicial Conduct, and saying he acted with “integrity and honesty” in the case. McMahon said he had met Walton briefly several years ago, but did not have an extensive personal or professional relationship with him.