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Sanders County killer gets 80 years in state prison

by SCOTT SHINDLEDECKER
The Western News | September 9, 2022 7:00 AM

A Hot Springs man was sentenced on Aug. 30 to 80 years in Montana State Prison with no time suspended for deliberate homicide by Sanders County District Judge John W. Larson. A jury convicted Aaron Eugene McLaughlin, 41, in June following a successful prosecution by the Attorney General’s Office Prosecution Services Bureau.

McLaughlin was taken to the prison in Deer Lodge on Sept. 1.

McLaughlin killed his roommate in October 2020 by blunt force trauma that caused a massive brain hemorrhage. McLaughlin called 911 after the assault and said he beat the victim, Raymond R. Wachlin, after Wachlin broke through his door. He also reportedly laughed about the incident when describing the scenario to the officer transporting him to the Sanders County Detention Center.

“Another dangerous criminal is behind bars thanks to our hard-working Department of Justice prosecutors and investigators and law enforcement partners. We must continue to send the message to criminals that Montana will not tolerate illegal behavior,” Attorney General Austin Knudsen said.

Montana Department of Justice (DOJ) attorneys Dan Guzynski and Stephanie Robles prosecuted the case at the request of the Sanders County Attorney’s Office. DOJ Division of Criminal Investigation and Hot Springs Police Department investigated the case.

McLaughlin was taken into custody after officers were called to a home on First Avenue South in Hot Springs on the afternoon of Wednesday, Oct. 7, 2020.

Hot Springs Police Chief Eric Pfleger said Wachlin was struck several times with an object and died of massive brain hemorrhaging due to blunt force trauma.

Court documents indicate neither man had lived in Hot Springs for very long. A man who rented a small home to Wachlin said he had lived there less than one year. Neighbors said McLaughlin had moved in with Wachlin a few months prior to the homicide.

Both were also described as veterans of the military, but it wasn’t clear which branches of service.

A court document describing the events following the incident indicate McLaughlin made statements on in-car video while he was being driven to the detention center in Thompson Falls by Sanders County Sheriff’s Office Detective Brian Josephson.

In one statement, McLaughlin was allegedly heard saying “Then I was like, dude don’t come through my door. Don’t do it. Don’t (profanity) do it. I swear I told you I’d kill you if you come through my door and so he comes through the door and I just (profanity) blacked out...then I’m like...ah (profanity). I kicked him all the way down the hall like karate kicks, like (profanity) Bruce Lee (laughter).”

McLaughlin made the 911 call after the alleged assault and said “My roommate broke through my door and I beat the (profanity) out of him and he’s not...his pulse is real low but...yeah.”

A neighbor told investigators Wachlin was a soft spoken man who was very caring and loving when he wasn’t drinking. She said when he drank, he cried a lot. She believed he suffered from PTSD from his time in the military.

The woman described the relationship between McLaughlin and Wachlin as violent. She said she heard them yelling at each other frequently and on the night before Wachlin’s death.

Montana Department of Justice agent Tommy Teniente spoke to Wachlin’s children, who had traveled to Hot Springs to settle their father’s affairs.

One of Wachlin’s daughters said her father used to have a lot of jewelry but she never saw any of it while going through his possessions.

The daughter also said she saw her father’s wallet, driver’s license and what appeared to be a document giving McLaughlin power of attorney over her father’s affairs. But she also said the signature didn’t appear to be her father’s.

The daughter also said she saw a Post-it note in McLaughlin’s room with her dad’s Social Security number, date of birth and what appeared to be a personal identification number.

The Hot Springs Police Department was assisted by the Montana Department of Criminal Investigation and Sanders County Sheriff’s Office.