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Eureka man admits guilt in shooting death of father

by SCOTT SHINDLEDECKER
The Western News | May 17, 2024 7:00 AM

A Eureka man pleaded guilty Monday in Lincoln County District Court to shooting and killing his father during an incident nearly two years ago.

Joshua Joseph Sauls, 25, the son of the victim John Sauls, pleaded guilty to an amended count of mitigated deliberate homicide in front of District Judge Matt Cuffe.

Cuffe set Sauls’ sentencing for July 8. According to a signed plea deal between state prosecutor Thorin Geist, Sauls and his public defender Maury Solomon, the defendant faces up to 40 years in the Montana State Prison.

The document indicated the state will seek a 40-year term, but won’t seek a parole restriction. It also said the defense may seek a 40-year sentence with 20 years suspended.

Sauls remains incarcerated in the Lincoln County Detention Center. 

Sauls was first charged with deliberate homicide after investigators with the Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office said he fired three rounds from a .45 caliber handgun into 64-year-old John Lewis Sauls’ head after both men argued.

But the amended information indicated the offense occurred while Sauls, “was under the influence of extreme mental or emotional stress for which there is reasonable explanation or excuse.”

According to court documents and testimony in Monday’s hearing, the argument began when the younger Sauls confronted John over rumors he heard about his dad being “sexually inappropriate with my sister.”

When public defender Ryan Hennen, who was working with Solomon, performed the allocution with Sauls, the man became emotional while describing his relationship with his father and the day’s events that ended in John Sauls’ death.

“I loved my father more than anything in the world,” Joshua Sauls said. “He was my best friend, one of the most important people in my life.”

The younger Sauls had heard allegations about his dad’s behavior toward his daughter, Josh’s sister. Both men got into a black Chevy Monte Carlo on Monday, May 30, because Joshua wanted to buy cigarettes. While they drove, the younger Sauls asked his dad about the alleged behavior with his sister.

“I didn’t want to believe it, but when I asked him, he showed no remorse. He said he didn’t owe anyone an apology for what he did,” Joshua Sauls said. 

He further said his dad told him if he wanted to discuss it further, “go ask your mother because she had known for a long time.”

Sauls testified he, “felt shattered and betrayed and it led to a blind rage.”

Sauls said things got heated while they drove and his dad struck him in the face and tried to grab the steering wheel.

“When we stopped, Dad got out, and I saw his gun on the seat. In a fit of anger, I shot him in the back of the head and fired off two more shots,” Sauls said, weeping as he spoke.

“I cried, smoked a bit and then left,” Sauls said.

Geist said he didn’t necessarily agree with Sauls’ remorse, but was OK with his allocution.

Following the homicide, Sauls was on the run from local law enforcement for nearly a month before being arrested by the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Office on June 28, 2022, on unrelated charges. Court documents indicate he was arrested for evading law enforcement and injuries occurred during the incident.

According to a court document filed Feb. 6, 2023, the Montana State Crime Lab collected DNA samples from cigarette butts found at the crime scene. A lab report indicated DNA on the cigarette butts did not belong to the victim, John Sauls, but was 222 million times more likely to have come from his biological child.

According to the affidavit of probable cause filed on June 21, 2022, in Lincoln County Justice Court, Sauls was sought by law officers in the death of his father.

In the charging document, the Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office received a report on Tuesday, May 31, of a dead man, later identified as John Lewis Sauls, on Thirsty Lake Road, about 7.5 miles up Meadow Creek Road.

Deputies Bobbie (Noel) Aston and Clint Heintz found John Lewis Sauls with three apparent gunshot wounds to the head. Later, an autopsy at the Montana State Crime Lab in Missoula determined the man had died of three gunshot wounds to the back of his head.

After Aston and Heintz secured the scene, county Detectives Duane Rhodes and Dan Holskey began to investigate. They found three cigarette butts with two gold-colored rings around the filter at the scene as well as three fired shell casings from a Winchester .45 caliber handgun and two bullets.

On Wednesday, June 1, Detective Rhodes spoke to John Sauls’ wife, the mother of Joshua Sauls. She said the last time she saw her husband was on Monday, May 30. She said Joshua Sauls was also living in the home and was angry at John due to a “family crisis” that had occurred.

According to an application for a search warrant in the case, the family crisis involved the recent discovery of an alleged molestation of a family member by John Sauls about 20 years ago.

John Sauls’ wife also told investigators that Joshua Sauls got divorced and ended up homeless in Nevada. Family members then brought him back to the home in Eureka.

John Sauls’ wife also said that on Monday, May 30, Joshua and John did some “acid” and left the home in a black Chevy Monte Carlo. She also said that John Sauls had encouraged the children to take drugs and that he is a “junkie” and doesn’t take care of himself.

Joshua Sauls had other run-ins with law enforcement in the past. According to court documents, he was accused of fleeing from police after an attempted traffic stop in the Eureka area in November 2017. Police said he ditched the car. Officers later found baggies with a substance that tested positive for methamphetamine. Officers also reported finding two guns, several knives, two hatchets, a leather club and four boxes of ammunition.

In the charging document in the 2017 case, filed by Heintz, a police officer in Eureka at the time, he reported assisting Lincoln County Detective Nate Scofield with a traffic stop in 2014 involving Joshua Sauls. Scofield said he found marijuana and drug paraphernalia in the vehicle which Sauls allegedly said belonged to him.