Prosecution witness gets 10 years in Yaak murder

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Photo by PAUL SIEVERS Ezra Skinner looks down during his sentencing on Aug. 20.

Ezra Skinner was sentenced in Montana 19th Judicial District Court Monday to 10 years without parole for tampering or fabricating physical evidence in connection with the January 2017 death of Travis Gillett.

Skinner pleaded guilty to the charge on March 12 after coming forward to accuse his wife, Sarah Carpenter, of shooting Gillett to death in the Yaak on Jan. 14, 2017. Skinner and Carpenter conspired to conceal and later to sell the murder weapon — Skinner’s .40 caliber Glock handgun — to a relative of Carpenter while at a wedding in Texas.

Before sentencing, Skinner and Gillett’s mother, Debbie Bailey, both spoke. Skinner’s attorney, Sean Hinchey, also spoke on behalf of his client, calling him a “kind and gentle person that got wrapped up in a situation he could not get out of.”

Bailey, reading from a lengthy written statement, told Skinner that since her son’s death, she has been diagnosed with PTSD, depression and anxiety, and that she rarely leaves her home.

She said she had Gillett cremated, and takes his ashes with her when she leaves home, fearing that Skinner and Carpenter would take him from her.

Bailey told Skinner she had prayed someone would come forward and tell the truth, and that she felt Skinner’s testimony was an answer to that prayer.

Skinner told Gillett’s family he was sorry for the role he played, and acknowledged responsibility for his actions.

In sentencing, Judge Matthew Cuffe noted that Skinner played an active role in Gillett’s death and in attempting to cover up the murder and get rid of evidence.

“You hid it, you transported it and you sold it,” Cuffe said to Skinner in reference to the handgun.

Both Skinner and Carpenter were originally charged with deliberate homicide in Gillett’s death when they were arrested on Aug. 24, 2017.

In a trial that saw nearly a week of testimony, Skinner testified that he helped Carpenter in binding Gillett and conveying him from Ponderay to various locations in Lincoln County, ostensibly intending to throw him from a bridge.

Though the couple made multiple stops at bridges or elevated locations, Skinner testified they returned to Carpenter’s Trailblazer and continued driving each time.

Their path eventually led them to a location about 20 miles northeast of Yaak, where Skinner said that Carpenter acted alone in using Skinner’s .40 caliber Glock to shoot Gillett to death.

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