Freeman Released From Prison After Nine Years

By Beacon Staff

BILLINGS – A man associated with the anti-government Freemen was ordered released from prison after serving nine years of a 15-year sentence.

John P. McGuire of Calistoga, Calif., appeared before U.S. District Judge John Coughenour of Seattle Monday for resentencing, after a Missoula judge ruled in February that McGuire had ineffective legal counsel and vacated his sentence.

A Billings jury convicted McGuire in 1998 of six counts for his role in a massive bad-check scheme devised by Freemen leaders and the armed robbery of a television crew in Garfield County. The panel found McGuire guilty of carrying one of seven SKS rifles.

McGuire, a convicted felon in California, said he went to Roundup in August 1995 to learn about law from Freeman leader LeRoy Schweitzer and moved with the group to a foreclosed ranch in Garfield County they called “Justus Township.” He left about five months later after a falling out with the Freemen, who suspected that McGuire was a government snitch. McGuire did not participate in the 81-day standoff with the FBI in 1996.

Coughenour, who presided over all Freeman trials in the late 1990s, sentenced McGuire to five years in prison for bank fraud and armed robbery and a consecutive 10 years for carrying an assault-style firearm during a robbery.

McGuire filed a motion to vacate his sentence, claiming his previous attorney failed to adequately challenge a presentence report that concluded that all SKS rifles are semiautomatic assault weapons. U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy of Missoula agreed.

McGuire’s current attorney, Sean Goicoechea of Kalispell, argued Monday that McGuire’s 10-year sentence on the firearms charge should be reduced to five and that he should be released from custody to finish his sentence on supervised release.

McGuire, who stood in shackles and appeared drawn and pale, criticized and blamed the government and his former attorney for his situation and health problems. He said he has received improper care and was poisoned with aluminum, which caused him to have a kidney removed and to have a heart attack.

Despite McGuire’s comments, which Coughenour said almost caused him to change his mind, the judge sentenced him again to five years on the fraud and robbery counts but shortened the gun sentence to a consecutive five years and ordered McGuire released immediately.

“I hope that sentence will restore your faith in the American justice system,” the judge said.

However, Coughenour warned McGuire against acting on any anti-government beliefs he may hold, or risk violating the terms of his five years of supervised release.

He also instructed McGuire’s probation officer that if he had any violations, “I want him to come before me and not another judge.”

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