Homicide charge dropped in Hungry Horse shooting; law enforcement not happy about it

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James William Quen pled not guilty to a charge of felony deliberate homicide on Thursday, May 31, in Flathead District Court. Quen was charged after the death of Bradley Allen Winters. (Brenda Ahearn/Daily Inter Lake)

A charge of deliberate homicide against a Martin City man was dismissed Monday by Flathead County District Judge Heidi Ulbricht.

James William Quen, 48, won’t be prosecuted for allegedly shooting and killing Bradley Allen Winters April 25 at a Hungry Horse residence. Flathead County Attorney Travis Ahner filed the motion Monday morning.

Flathead County Sheriff Brian Heino told the Daily Inter Lake Wednesday there is a federal detainer for Quen on possession of controlled substances with the intent to deliver. Quen is being held in Missoula County.

Heino issued a written statement regarding the dismissal, saying “the Flathead County Sheriff’s Office professional and dedicated staff contributed several hundred hours in the recent Quen case.

“It is my opinion this case should be taken to trial, but understand the office of the county attorney has the right to dismiss charges. In the day-to-day world of investigations and law enforcement, we strive to protect and bring justice to those who are victims of crimes,” Heino said. “In this case, I believe the decision should have been that of a jury rather than one individual in office. The input of the current and past sheriff were not a part of discussion before the determination was made.”

Heino further stated the Flathead County Sheriff’s Office “will continue to protect and serve our community and gather the facts in cases to present to the county attorney for prosecution. It is with great hope continued prosecution of criminals is sought to avoid an increase in crime in our valley.”

Former Flathead County Sheriff Chuck Curry, who led the Quen investigation, was blunt in his assessment of the decision to dismiss the case.

“When a judge rejects a plea deal that didn’t call for prison time and you [Ahner] makes it go away and that’s even more lenient, that’s kind of crazy,” Curry said. “I’m not a prosecuting attorney and I know some cases can be difficult, but some cases are important to let the jury decide.”

The odd case has taken many twists and turns in the eight-plus months since the shooting occurred.

It began late on the night of April 25 when a fight over money led to a shooting at the Hungry Horse residence where Winters lived.

Quen, 48, allegedly shot Winters in the chest after firing several rounds from a .38-caliber revolver, killing Winters.

According to court documents, the brother of the victim said Quen arrived at the residence and a dispute arose over clothes and money. He said he heard the sound of a gun cocking and then multiple shots fired. The victim’s brother said Winters was hit and Quen then left the area.

Flathead County sheriff’s deputies located Quen at about 1 a.m. April 26 and spoke with him.

He allegedly admitted to being in a dispute with the victim and his brother over money. According to court documents, Quen admitted firing rounds from the revolver during the dispute.

Quen also allegedly admitted he pointed his revolver at a person and shot him, and understood that person to be Winters, the document stated.

Ahner wasn’t available for comment Wednesday, but according to a statement from the attorney’s office, investigations conducted by the Flathead County Sheriff’s Office patrol and detective divisions following the April 25 fatal shooting were thorough, but the “forensic evidence gathered could not account fully for the sequence of events that unfolded that night.”

According to Ahner, the self-defense case for Quen is strong for several reasons, including the fact that “all of the individuals involved were on meth at the time” of the incident so that eye-witnesses’ testimony could not provide a clear picture of what really took place.

“Given the state of the evidence and the lack of cooperation by a critical witness who failed to respond to a subpoena, the state could not present a viable case to a jury,” the County Attorney’s statement said.

The dismissal of the case came on the heels of Judge Ulbricht rejecting a plea agreement that would have allowed Quen to plead guilty to an amended charge of felony negligent homicide in return for a 10-year suspended sentence.

Quen’s case had been scheduled to go to trial Jan. 7.

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