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Jury finds man guilty of witness tampering; hung on assault charge

The Western News | July 22, 2022 7:00 AM

It was a split decision in the case of a Lincoln County man who Is accused of assaulting a woman earlier this year.

A jury found Walter Jason Purkhiser, 42, guilty of felony witness tampering on Saturday, June 16 in Lincoln County District Court. But the group of eight women and four men deadlocked on one felony count of partner or family member assault, third offense.

A status hearing will be held on Aug. 1 to determine if the county will seek to retry Purkhiser on the assault charge.

Jurors deliberated for several hours on the evening of June 15 and the morning of June 16 before delivering their verdict shortly after 1 p.m.

The case began in the early-morning hours of Jan. 22 when deputies from the Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office headed to a Silver Butte Road home after receiving multiple 911 calls, one rather chaotic, according to court documents. The first call came from a friend of the victim, who reported receiving text messages describing Purkhiser’s alleged violent behavior. She told dispatchers that the victim had locked herself in a bathroom after Purkhiser attacked her.

A second 911 call from the victim’s house consisted mostly of shouting, with dispatchers unable to speak with anyone on the line, court documents said.

When Purkhiser spoke with deputies, he denied any wrongdoing. He also denied engaging in domestic abuse in his past, which investigators later learned was false. According to court documents, Deputy James Derryberry found a 2012 domestic battery conviction out of Duval County, Fla. Court documents also list a 2019 assault with intent to murder conviction.

The victim, who was identified as Heather Harrison (AKA “Stamps”) after she called The Western News to dispute the details in an affidavit filed in district court, said Purkhiser twisted her arm behind her back after forcing his way into the bathroom after they argued about text messages on her phone in which he accused her of infidelity.

In an amended information, filed in district court on Feb. 22, Purkhiser was accused of continuing to contact Stamps from the county detention center. There were several calls between Feb. 3-13.

During the trial, Lincoln County Attorney Marcia Boris questioned Stamps about Purkhiser’s calls to her while he was in jail.

“I called his sister and told him to call me to talk about what happened and to get his stuff,” Stamps said.

One of the calls from jail was played for the jury. In it Stamps told Purkhiser “I don’t cheat. You’re violent and I’m putting your stuff in the car.

Purkhiser replied “I’m getting a restraining order.” Stamps then said “Do what you gotta do.”

Purkhiser then said “Heather, Heather, please talk to me.” At that point the call was disconnected.

When Purkhiser’s public defender Scott B. Johnson cross examined Stamps, he asked her if she had other conversations with the defendant and she said yes.

“I asked his sister to have him call me. I felt bad for him after she told me some things,” Stamps said.

Boris also called Lincoln County Justice of the Peace and Libby City Judge Jay Sheffield. She questioned him to determine if Purkhiser understood he was not allowed to contact Stamps.

Sheffield said Purkhiser told him he understood the conditions.

In the witness tampering case a sentencing date is set for Sept. 12. It carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in the Montana State Prison.

Purkhiser remains in the Lincoln County Detention Center.