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Both suspects in 2019 Cave Gulch homicide plead guilty to lesser charges

Posted at 10:51 AM, Jan 09, 2021
and last updated 2021-01-09 12:51:55-05

HELENA — Both suspects charged with deliberate homicide in the 2019 killing of a man in the Canyon Ferry area have admitted to lesser charges, weeks before they were expected to stand trial.

At a hearing Wednesday, DeWayne Johnson pleaded “guilty but mentally ill” to a charge of mitigated deliberate homicide in the death of 56-year-old Shane White. Serena Kilseimer pleaded guilty to accountability for mitigated deliberate homicide.

According to state law, “mitigated deliberate homicide” means “purposely or knowingly” causing someone’s death, but doing it “under the influence of extreme mental or emotional stress for which there is reasonable explanation or excuse.”

Judge Michael McMahon ordered a pre-sentence investigation in both cases and set sentencing hearings for Feb. 23.

Johnson and Kilseimer had both been set for jury trials this month in connection with White’s killing. Authorities found White’s body in September 2019, in the area of Cave Gulch Road, north of Canyon Ferry Lake. An autopsy showed he had blunt force and sharp force injuries. Court documents say deputies found two knives near his body.

According to a document filed with the court Wednesday, Johnson said he was suffering from paranoid schizophrenia, and that he believed White had been threatening him and Kilseimer over an extended period of time.

Johnson said in the statement that the three of them had been together in White’s truck and that he believed White was ready to attack him with a knife. According to the document, he said Kilseimer had held White against the side of the vehicle and that he had hit him and tried to grab his knife. He admitted stabbing him but claimed he “really believed it was self-defense.” Johnson also said in the statement that he later hit White with a rock and cut his throat.

Lewis and Clark County Attorney Leo Gallagher said, as part of the plea agreement, he will recommend Johnson be committed to the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services for 30 years, with 20 suspended. Gallagher will also recommend Kilseimer receive 30 years, including 20 suspended, in the Montana Women’s Prison.

McMahon is not bound by Gallagher’s recommendation, and he could sentence them to as little as 2 years or as much as 40 years.

Court documents say White had previously testified for the state of Montana in a dependent neglect case against Kilseimer and Johnson.