A Columbia Falls man was sentenced to 30 years in prison with 20 years suspended nearly three years after he robbed a woman at knifepoint in a grocery store parking lot.
Flathead County District Court Judge Heidi Ulbricht sentenced Justin Eugene Hetrick to the Montana State Prison during a hearing on Jan. 5. The sentencing came four months after a jury convicted Hetrick of felony robbery and assault with a weapon.
According to court documents, on March 28, 2014 Hetrick walked up to a woman who was putting her groceries in her car at a grocery store parking lot in Columbia Falls. Hetrick allegedly tried to grab the woman’s purse and when she told him to stop he said, “I have a knife, do you want to get cut?” Hetrick then allegedly took the knife and cut the purse strap and the woman’s hand. Hetrick grabbed the purse and ran away.
A bystander saw the robbery and tried to follow Hetrick on a four-wheeler, but Hetrick allegedly lunged at the man with the knife. The man fell off his vehicle and Hetrick fled on foot. Later on, a Columbia Falls police officer found Hetrick pacing near a home on Second Avenue West. When the officer approached, Hetrick ran inside and slammed the door. He avoided apprehension and the Flathead County Attorney’s Office did not file charges for over a year, until July 2015 when a warrant for his arrest was issued.
Hetrick initially denied the accusations and went to trial in September 2016. A jury found Hetrick guilty after four days of testimony.
On Jan. 5, Hetrick’s victim testified about how the incident changed her life and how she now almost always carries a can of mace.
“Whenever I grab my purse, whenever I walk through a dark parking lot or whenever I see a young man in a hoodie, I think back to what happened to me,” she said. “I don’t do things the way I did before this incident.”