News & Features

Coram Man Sentenced to 20 Years in Prison for Fatal Shooting

District court judge imposes lighter sentence for Martin Chandler than one called for in plea agreement

A Coram man who pleaded guilty to shooting and killing a man in February has been sentenced to 20 years in Montana State Prison, which is 10 years shorter than the sentence proposed in a plea agreement.

Martin Jay Chandler, 20, pleaded guilty in August to felony mitigated deliberate homicide for shooting 54-year-old William Melton to death in Coram on Feb. 14. Flathead County District Court Judge Dan Wilson sentenced Chandler on Oct. 16 to 20 years in prison with credit for 245 days served.

Chandler was initially charged with felony deliberate homicide, but the charge was amended down to felony mitigated deliberate homicide after evidence emerged that Melton had sexually assaulted Chandler while he was passed out. Investigators initially said an argument over methamphetamine led to the shooting. Citing the sexual assault as a mitigating factor, the Flathead County Attorney’s Office agreed to amend the charge.

Wilson also cited the sexual assault in his decision to reject a plea agreement that called for a 30-year sentence. Wilson opted to impose a lighter sentence of 20 years with no years suspended and no parole-eligibility restrictions. Though not unheard of, it’s not common for a judge to shave time off a sentence outlined in a plea agreement, according to Chandler’s defense attorney, Sean Hinchey.

“In my line of work, I’m always appreciative when a judge takes the time to truly understand the facts of the case in rendering his decision,” Hinchey said of Wilson’s decision.

Flathead County Attorney Travis Ahner was out of the office when the Beacon tried to reach him on Friday.

Chandler shot Melton in the chest at a home in Coram at around 1:30 a.m. on Feb. 14. Melton died at the scene. Chandler fled but was apprehended soon after in Columbia Falls.

During the course of the investigation, law enforcement discovered two “one-pot” meth labs: one inside the home where the shooting occurred and another in a vehicle, according to Flathead County Sheriff Brian Heino. In a “one-pot” meth lab, small amounts of the drug are produced in a single container, usually for personal use.

Because there are no parole-eligibility restrictions in Chandler’s sentence, he will be eligible for a parole hearing after one quarter of his sentence has been served, the earliest date allowed under state law, which will be five years for Chandler.

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