Man who decapitated dog faces life in prison for trying to ‘rid entire town of gays and lesbians’

John Russell Howald

A man who served jail time for beheading a dog may now spend the rest of his life behind bars after being convicted of firing an assault rifle into the home of a lesbian to “rid the town” of gays and lesbians.

John Russell Howald, from Basin, Montana, was found guilty of hate crime acts and discharging a firearm during and in relation to a crime of violence by a federal judge after a four day trial. 

The United States Department of Justice outlined that on 22 March 2020, Howald went on a self-described mission to ‘rid the town of Basin of its lesbian and gay community’. 

Armed with three rifles and two pistols, the 46-year-old approached the property of the victim – who he knew to be a lesbian – and fired an AK-style assaulted rifle. 

Several rounds went through the victim’s fence and hit her yard and porch. 

One round travelled through a wall of the home, bounced off the kitchen ceiling and lodged in a wall in the room. 

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The victim was at home at the time but was not hurt by the attack. 

Howald then walked to another home occupied by “people who identify and are known locally as gay or lesbian”, a release from the DoJ stated. 

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At this point, he bumped into a group of people leaving church that knew him. The group heard Howald talk about his mission of killing lesbian and gay people in town and saw his weapons and attempted to calm him down before the police arrived. 

When officers arrived on the scene John Russell Howald was told by deputies to put his weapons down. 

He refused and pointed a rifle at a deputy before running and firing at least one more round. 

He was taken into custody the next day with multiple guns and knives in his possession.

As court network Law and Crime reported, Howald was convicted in 2006 on one charge of cruelty to animals after he shot a chocolate Labrador dog several times and then beheaded the animal at a public campsite in Montana. 

The Independent Record in 2005 reported that Howald “pursued the wounded Lab around the side of a trailer and then into the trees and shot at it a number of times, then came back to the campsite and got a chainsaw and severed the dog’s head”.

He served 24 months behind bars for the animal cruelty charge.

John Russell Howald faces a maximum of life imprisonment, a $250,000 fine and five years of supervised release on the hate crime conviction and a mandatory minimum 10 years to life imprisonment, consecutive to any other sentence, a $250,000 fine and five years of supervised release on the firearm conviction.

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He will be sentenced on 15 June.

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