Parole Denied for Whitefish Man who Killed Girlfriend in 1989

John E. Gambrel was sentenced to 110 years in prison for the slaying of Lori Anne Schwegel

By Justin Franz

A Whitefish man who shot and killed his girlfriend was denied parole Friday nearly a quarter century after he was convicted of murder.

John E. Gambrel, 56, appeared before the Montana Board of Pardons and Parole on Aug. 29 in Deer Lodge.

The parole hearing also marked the first time in 25 years that Gambrel had acknowledged shooting Lori Anne Schwegel on the night of Feb. 4, 1989, according to the victim’s sister, Lee Ann Giesy, who attended the parole hearing.

“Relieved, we are so relieved,” Giesy said of the board’s decision. “We’re terrified of (Gambrel) and we have no doubt that he would come back to the valley if he was released and seek revenge.”

Gambrel was drinking in downtown Whitefish on the night of Feb. 4, 1989 when, at about 11 p.m., he went to the apartment he shared with Schwegel and shot her six times with a rifle. Gambrel then returned back downtown and continued drinking until the bars closed. Witnesses later testified at his murder trial that Gambrel had been agitated and said that he and Schwegel were going to separate.

According to court documents, Gambrel returned to the apartment at 2 a.m. and fired two shots into his head; one that grazed his chin and another that went through his chin, mouth and nose before exiting his head between his eyes. Prosecutors argued that this was an attempt to cover up the murder and one witness said that Gambrel had once bragged that he had learned how to shoot someone without killing them at mercenary school.

After shooting himself, Gambrel went to a neighbor’s apartment to summon help. Gambrel later testified that as he was entering his apartment, someone struck him on the head and knocked him unconscious. However, Gambrel suffered no injuries to the back of the head and his wounds were consistent with that of a self-inflicted gunshot.

Gambrel was charged with deliberate homicide on April 3, 1989 and was convicted at trial in February 1990. He was later sentenced to 110 years in prison.

Gambrel first applied for parole in 2006 but that request was denied. He was able to apply again this year and a parole hearing was held on Aug. 29. According to Giesy, the parole board received numerous letters and calls urging them to leave Gambrel in prison.

Prior to the parole hearing, Gambrel submitted a letter to the parole board admitting that he shot Schwegel and himself in 1989. However, Giesy said he showed no remorse for his crime during the hearing.

Gambrel will again be eligible for parole in six years.

“There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t think about my sister, but Gambrel still haunts those memories,” Giesy said.

Stay Connected with the Daily Roundup.

Sign up for our newsletter and get the best of the Beacon delivered every day to your inbox.