Written by Al Stover
Richard John Burton was sentenced to 10 years at Montana Department of Corrections with five years suspended at his appearance in Montana 15th Judicial Court Sept. 26 after being convicted of criminal endangerment.
Burton was arrested Feb. 4 after officers were informed of a possible crash by an intoxicated male driver, north of Culbertson.
Officers from Roosevelt County Sheriff’s Office made contact with Tom Beck, who made the report. Beck said the driver had gotten his pickup unstuck and traveled down County Road 2051. He said the truck had one headlight and damage caused by the male using a tractor to pull the truck out of the ditch.
Deputy Tim Lingle noticed a pickup traveling toward him with only the passenger headlight working. Lingle initiated a traffic stop and made contact with the driver, Richard Burton. When he learned that Burton did not have a valid driver’s licence, he checked the status of Burton’s driver’s licence. During this time, Burton drove away. Dispatch later informed Lingle the vehicle was stolen from Sheridan County.
Pursuit continued until Burton pulled over near the mile marker 10 in Richland County. He was arrested and transported to the Richland County jail.
Judge David Cybulski asked Burton if the presentence investigation report was accurate. Burton said the report listed a violation of possession of firearms, but it had been changed to trespassing. He said he had taken his father hunting and drove him to the property and that the report was making the incident “worse than what it was.”
Roosevelt County Attorney Ralph Patch recommended Burton be sentenced to Montana State Prison for five years.
Attorney Mark Epperson presented a report from Michelle Helgason, who wrote the presentence investigation report on Burton. Her recommendation was five years in Montana State Prison or Department of Corrections for his repeat serious alcohol problem.
Helgason said Burton had gone to Alcoholics Anonymous meetings and had been six months sober before drinking again. Epperson asked Helgason if Burton would have access to alcohol treatment programs. She said, at Department of Corrections, there were also possible programs for chemical dependency issues.
Epperson brought Burton’s mother, Julie Burton, as a witness. She confirmed that he had been living with her for approximately six weeks. She said his brother had given him a trailer and he is in the process of remodeling it.
Julie Burton said she had been down the path with her son a dozen times, though she said she had seen a change in his attitude recently. She also said he would read his Bible every night, which she had never seen him do. She said her son is a “good guy,” but he has a problem with drinking and she thinks it is the cause of his crimes. She also said that she would like to see him go through a five-year intensive alcohol treatment.
“He does so good in a controlled environment,” Julie Burton said.
Patch cross-examined her and asked if she was aware that her son had been drinking while he was out on bond. She said she saw signs of it.
Epperson said that Julie Burton did call the authorities to let them know that her son was passed out drunk. She confirmed she did inform the authorities, but they would not respond unless her son had committed a crime. She said that Indian Health Services pays for treatments, but her son has to go to the clinic voluntarily.
Epperson recommended Richard Burton serve five years at the Department of Corrections so he could have a better chance to address and control his chemical dependency issues.
Cybulski let the defendant make a statement. Richard Burton said he had periods of sobriety. He also said that it was unfair to claim that he was only sober while he was incarcerated as he had opportunities to get alcohol and drugs and chose not to do so.
He also said he had a good relationship with his boss at Columbia Grain and has had a better relationship with his children, including his daughter. He said he has been through the treatment programs at the department at corrections and knows what is available.
Cybulski said that prospects for Richard Burton to rehabilitate might be better if he had help for his alcohol problem. He modified the defense’s recommendation by sentencing him to 10 years at Department of Corrections with five years suspended. He said he wants to help Richard Burton succeed.
In addition, he will pay a net fine of $2,000.