TOWNSEND — Four months ago, Lloyd Barrus was convicted of deliberate homicide by accountability in the 2017 killing of Broadwater County Sheriff’s Deputy Mason Moore. On Friday, Barrus was back in court in Townsend for a hearing that could determine where he’ll spend his sentence – in the Montana State Hospital or in prison.
District Court Judge Kathy Seeley presided over the first day of a two-day hearing, taking testimony that will help her determine whether Barrus is “guilty but mentally ill.” His attorneys argue that, at the time of the crime, he suffered from a severe delusional disorder that meant he didn’t have the capacity to “appreciate the criminality of the defendant's behavior or to conform the defendant's behavior to the requirements of the law.”
On May 17, 2017, Moore was struck with a bullet while attempting to stop Barrus and his son Marshall on U.S. Highway 287 near Three Forks. The two men then returned to the patrol vehicle, where Marshall Barrus reportedly fired a dozen more shots at Moore.
The men then led authorities on a nearly 150-mile chase that ended on Interstate 90 near Missoula. There, Marshall Barrus was killed in a shootout with officers, and Lloyd Barrus was taken into custody.
In June 2018, Barrus was found mentally unfit to stand trial because he suffered from several disorders. However, the state was eventually allowed to forcibly medicate him to get him to a point where a trial could proceed. Seeley ruled him fit for trial in September 2020.
The trial was moved to Butte when both sides agreed Barrus likely could not receive a fair trial in Broadwater County. It was originally set for March 2021, but delayed to September. After a two-week trial, a jury found Barrus guilty of deliberate homicide by accountability and two counts of attempted deliberate homicide by accountability.
On Friday, defense attorney Greg Jackson called one witness: Dr. Virginia Hill, a recently retired forensic psychiatrist at the Montana State Hospital. She said she met with Barrus about 50 times during his four years at the hospital, and she made several reports on his mental condition.
Hill said Barrus had a long history of extreme paranoia and anti-government beliefs – including delusions that people in authority were stalking and threatening him and his son.
“He had a significant burden to convey to us the persecution that he had suffered for decades,” Hill said. “He strongly believed that law enforcement and government officials had been responsible for this.”
She said the attack on Moore apparently happened during an “acute episode” when Barrus’ mental illness was at its worst.
“The behaviors on that fateful night seem to have been driven by his paranoia, which was in a very intense place at that time,” Hill said. “I believe it robbed him of the ability to appreciate and conform.”
Hill said, in her opinion, Barrus is eligible to be found guilty but mentally ill and to be placed at the State Hospital and continue treatment with anti-psychotic drugs. She said his condition has improved significantly since he began receiving forcible injections of those drugs in February 2020 – noting that he had at times been disruptive and threatening within the hospital but was no longer displaying those behaviors.
She also reported that Barrus – who has expressed intense opposition to medication and previously threatened to resist the drugs to the point of violence – has been willingly taking an oral anti-psychotic since Jan. 12.
However, assistant attorney general Dan Guzynski, a lead attorney for the prosecution, questioned whether Barrus’ inconsistent answers were signs of delusion or of dishonest behavior. He suggested that other factors besides mental illness played a role in the crime, including Barrus’ suspected use of alcohol the day before, his anti-government and anti-police attitudes and the influence of his son Marshall.
Prosecutors have their own expert witness: forensic psychiatrist Dr. Alan Newman, who made his own report on Barrus. Newman will testify at the second half of the hearing, set for Monday in Helena.
The final sentencing hearing will be held at a later date, not yet determined.