Columbia Falls Man Sentenced to 80 Years in Prison for Murdering Former Stepfather

A jury found Zackary Matthew Maas, 26, guilty of deliberate homicide in March

By Maggie Dresser
Zackary Matthew Maas appears in Flathead County District Court in Kalispell on March 10, 2023. A jury convicted Maas of deliberate homicide for shooting a man in the back in March 2022. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

A 26-year-old Columbia Falls man convicted of murdering his former stepfather last year after shooting him in the back was sentenced Thursday to 80 years in the Montana State Prison with eligibility for parole.

A jury found Zackary Matthew Maas guilty of felony deliberate homicide on March 16, despite his attorney’s self-defense argument.

On May 11, Judge Dan Wilson presided over the sentencing hearing in Flathead County District Court, where he imposed a harsher punishment than Deputy Flathead County Attorney Ashley Frechette’s recommendation of 60 years. None of Maas’ prison time will be suspended.

Maas is also ordered to pay $2,400 in restitution to the victim’s mother.

“The court finds that Mr. Maas is a threat to society … His conduct in this case, including his testimony at trial, abundantly demonstrates to the court that Mr. Maas has a sense of entitlement that goes beyond all levels of normal human decency,” Wilson said. “The court listened to the evidence at trial and finds that the self-defense theory that Mr. Maas testified to is a fabrication and is so implausible, improbable (and) nearly impossible to occur.”

According to charging documents, Maas and an accomplice entered Gabriel Wagoner’s home at around 4:30 a.m. on March 13, 2022, in Kalispell to confront the homeowner about stolen property. During a confrontation, Maas opened the door for them to leave and Maas shot him in the back and fled the scene. Wagoner died a month after the incident. 

During the sentencing hearing, Maas read a statement apologizing to the court for the events that lead to Wagoner’s death but maintained that he shot his former stepfather in self-defense.

“The reason I did what I did that night was to save my friend,” Maas said. “I wish more than anything that I didn’t bring my gun with me. I had no intention of hurting Gabe that night … I’m just so sorry that I caused all this and it’s my fault.”

Wagoner’s mother and siblings testified to the court and spoke of forgiving Maas for his actions but supported his incarceration where they hoped he would eventually emerge a better person. 

“I really don’t want to see anything horrible happen to you Mr. Maas, but I do want you to serve your time in this matter,” said Sheri Lee, Wagoner’s mother. “I met you at 13 years old. I offered my home to you – you learned to shoot guns at my ranch by my son that is deceased … I’m grateful that you are alive today. I forgive you for your actions, but I hope you come to know a higher self – a better self in your incarceration. I will continue to pray or you and wish you the best.”

Maas’ parents and his older sister also testified to the court, describing Maas as a loving but immature adult who struggled with meth addiction and had been in and out of drug treatment since he was a teenager.

“There was a point upon Zack’s parents’ divorce where things did get rocky for Zack,” the defendant’s sister, Stacy Drees, said. “We witnessed a path toward drugs that was hard to watch. But we also witnessed Zack fighting to be sober and to be a part of our family.”

“What I saw with his drug use was how much it really stunted his maturity,” Drees added.

Maas’ defense attorney Stephen Nardi described his client as remorseful, and he told the court that he was young with the potential for rehabilitation and that he had “tremendous family support.” He also suggested a lengthier probationary period.

But Judge Wilson was not convinced that Maas was remorseful or that he deserved a lenient sentence, and he referenced a letter that further justified his decision. The letter, written by Maas’ girlfriend, was a response to a prior letter that Maas had written that detailed a plot to escape from jail.

“Law enforcement and the court would have never known Mr. Maas was plotting an escape plan if not for a letter to Mr. Maas,” Judge Wilson said. “In that letter, written in plain English, a point-by-point rebuttal of Mr. Maas’ plan to escape.”

Following Maas’ conviction, law enforcement officials reported drugs being smuggled into the Flathead County Detention Center via U.S. mail. Authorities also found a pipe made from a coat button and a toilet paper roll core that had been used to hold an “unknown substance” that had been burned.

“I was going through a lot after trial,” Maas said in his statement.

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