Prosecutor Drops Charges Against Pablo Man Accused of Murder

Lake County Attorney says evidence points to self-defense in September shooting death of Johnny McKeever

By Justin Franz
Lake County Courthouse in Polson on Oct. 15, 2014. Beacon file photo.

Lake County Attorney Steven Eschenbacher says a 28-year-old Pablo man was acting in self-defense when he shot and killed a 34-year-old man in September.

On Tuesday, Eschenbacher announced that he was dropping all charges against Ryan Black, who was arrested on Sept. 16 after shooting Johnny McKeever. Eschenbacher said there was not enough evidence to convict Black of deliberate or negligent homicide beyond a reasonable doubt.

“The County Attorney has an ethical obligation not to file charges that he does not believe are supported by probable cause or have a reasonable likelihood of resulting in a conviction,” Eschenbacher wrote. “This incident is a tragedy and we regret the loss of life and sympathize with the family of the deceased.”

According to Eschenbacher, Black had been having an affair with McKeever’s wife, Amy McKeever. According to witnesses, Johnny McKeever had been following his wife and prior to the shooting had even been kicked out of an area bar after seeing Black with Amy McKeever and making a scene. At approximately 4 a.m. on Sept. 16, Johnny McKeever came to Black’s house to confront his wife. While Johnny McKeever was pounding on the front door, Amy McKeever went into a room to hide. Black went outside and confronted Johnny McKeever with a .44 Magnum pistol.

Johnny McKeever had been drinking heavily in the hours before the confrontation and according to law enforcement had a blood alcohol level twice the legal limit to drive.

When Black came out on to the porch, Johnny McKeever punched him in the eye, hard enough to cause significant bruising. Black told law enforcement that when Johnny McKeever struck him, he fell backwards and the gun went off. The bullet entered the left side of Johnny McKeever’s head along the jawbone and exited the right side, slightly behind his right ear. After the gun went off, Black went inside and told Amy McKeever and another man who was staying at the house to call 911.

“Montana’s castle doctrine statutes relating to justifiable use of force would apply in this case and a jury would have to find beyond a reasonable doubt, that Mr. Black’s actions were unjustified,” Eschenbacher said. “That may not be possible, based on the evidence that is at hand at the moment.”

Eschenbacher said that the case could be reopened in the future if additional evidence emerges.

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