Local man pleads guilty to homicide

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Martin Jay Chandler

A Flathead Valley man accused of murdering a Coram resident on Valentine’s Day this year pleaded guilty to the offense Aug. 8, in Flathead County District Court.

Martin Jay Chandler, 20, of Columbia Falls, pleaded guilty to an amended felony charge of mitigated deliberate homicide. Chandler was originally charged with felony deliberate homicide.

According to court documents, Chandler purposely or knowingly caused the death of William Gene Melton, 54, but did so under the influence of extreme mental or emotional stress for which there is a reasonable explanation or excuse.

The mitigated deliberate homicide charge carries a minimum of 2 years and a maximum of 40 years in the Montana State Prison, but the plea agreement calls for a 30-year sentence. He is scheduled to be sentenced later this year.

Initial court documents indicated that Chandler and Melton argued about methamphetamine.

The subsequent homicide investigation turned up at least two portable meth labs, including one in the victim’s home, according to Flathead County Sheriff Brian Heino.

At about 1:30 a.m. Thursday, Feb. 14, after receiving a report of shots fired in Coram, a police officer from Columbia Falls and a deputy from Flathead County responded to a home on Bear Street.

They found the body of Melton, who was pronounced dead at the scene. The officers were provided a description of a suspect who had fled and his vehicle.

A short time later, a county deputy apprehended Chandler in the vicinity of the North Fork Road near Columbia Falls.

Authorities said Melton and Chandler were believed to be acquaintances.

According to the affidavit of probable cause filed Feb. 15 by Flathead County Attorney Travis Ahner, when officers arrived at the Coram home “deputies confirmed that William Gene Melton was deceased from an apparent gunshot wound to the chest.”

The affidavit reports a witness, identified as Melton’s girlfriend, was present when Chandler “entered their residence and began to argue with Melton about methamphetamine.”

Chandler remains in the custody of the Flathead County Jail.

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