James William Quen, the Martin City man who escaped murder charges earlier this year after the Flathead County Attorney said he no longer had a “viable case,” has been sentenced to 12 years in federal prison for dealing methamphetamine.
U.S. District Court Judge Donald W. Molloy sentenced Quen during a hearing in Missoula on July 10. Quen will also be subjected to five years of supervised release once he is out of prison.
Quen pleaded guilty to dealing meth in March, three months after Flathead County Attorney Travis Ahner dropped murder charges against the man days before he was to stand trial.
Quen was charged with murder in April 2018. According to court records, deputies responded to the scene of a shooting in Hungry Horse at about 11:40 p.m. on April 25. When they arrived they found 33-year-old Bradley Allen Winters dead from a single gunshot wound. The initial investigation revealed that there had been an altercation over money and clothing outside Winters’ home and at some point Quen reportedly took out a gun. Quen allegedly fired the gun multiple times, hitting Winters once in the chest.
Quen pleaded not guilty to a single charge of felony deliberate homicide in Flathead County District Court on May 21. During subsequent hearings, Quen’s attorneys announced that they were going to argue that Quen had shot Winters in self-defense.
In December, Flathead County Attorney Travis Ahner presented a plea deal in which Quen would have pleaded guilty to an amended felony negligent homicide charge in return for a 10-year suspended sentence.
But at the onset of a hearing on Dec. 28, Judge Heidi Ulbricht said she would not accept the recommended sentence, believing it was too lenient in light of Quen’s checkered past, which includes a felony grand theft conviction, assorted violent offenses and a bench-warrant arrest for failing to appear at a court-ordered hearing in a separate felony case. Three days later, Ahner dropped the charge against Quen.
Ahner said he made the decision because he did not believe he had a “viable case” against Quen. But local law enforcement, including Sheriff Brian Heino and former-Sheriff Chuck Curry, expressed frustration at Ahner’s decision.
“It’s a struggle to keep your people motivated when your cases don’t get prosecuted,” Curry said. “The county attorney should have let a jury decide this case.”
But Quen never tasted freedom and instead was transferred to Missoula to be charged in federal court with dealing meth. According to charging documents, Quen was purchasing meth in Oregon and bringing it to Northwest Montana for distribution in 2017. A federal informant said at one point he witnessed Quen in possession of approximately 10 pounds of methamphetamine.
As part of a plea agreement, Quen pleaded guilty to being in possession of methamphetamine with intent to distribute and a second drug charge was dismissed.