Michael Ilk to appeal 200-year prison sentence in Montana, family confirms
Plea deal fell apart and 'forced our hand,' says lawyer Sean Hinchey
The family of a Calgary man sentenced to 200 years in Montana State Prison is desperate to get a new trial, saying it is "absolutely shocked" and "at a loss" in trying to justify the severity of the punishment.
Michael Ilk, 41, was sentenced Monday for two counts each of attempted murder and aggravated assault after he fired 10 shots at his ex-girlfriend and her co-worker in what U.S. prosecutors say was a jealous rage.
"Michael is the sweetest, kindest, most compassionate man I have ever known," said Ilk's aunt, Cindy Mjolsness.
"He didn't do what he did because he was a jealous raging boyfriend," Mjolsness told CBC Calgary News at 6. "It wasn't a premeditated thing."
Mjolsness said her nephew Ilk "expected something severe, because that's what we've been hearing all along," but that he was "stunned" when the ruling was handed down.
"We do not feel that he has had a fair trial. We're at a loss. We're reaching out to everyone. We have to get a new trial," Mjolsness said.
"We have to pursue every avenue, because this is just not right."
The family is looking to government officials and legal experts for recourse, but Mjolsness said she recognizes that the Canadian consulate will not be able to step in so long as other legal proceedings — including the pending appeal and million-dollar civil suit against Ilk — are still ongoing.
Plea deal fell apart
Ilk's lawyer Sean Hinchey, said he originally struck a plea deal with the prosecutor, but that the court indicated it was "not willing to be a party to that agreement."
"It put us back to the drawing board and forced our hand into taking it to trial," Hinchey said.
The defence then based its case on the theory of justifiable use of force, commonly known as self-defense.
Hinchey said he respects the jury process, but was "shocked" at the outcome.
"In 20 years' practice, I've never seen a sentence anywhere close to that length of time, given the facts of the case and the mitigating factors that we presented, both at trial and at the sentencing."
Judge a 'good, honest man,' says lawyer
Hinchey said he has practiced in front of the presiding judge in this case, District Court Judge James Wheelis, for many years.
"Frankly, I've always found him to be a good, honest man. That's frankly why I'm a bit baffled given this sentence," he said.
"I hesitate to speculate as to why 160 years in the prison with no parole was what he thought was an appropriate sentence, particularly given Michael's lack of any criminal history, the facts of the case, the support that was shown by his family and friends," Hinchey said.
An additional 40 years in prison with no parole was imposed, broken down into two 20-year sentences for each count of aggravated assault.
"I can't see the justness in that sentence," said Hinchey.
Hinchey said this ruling does not take into account punishment guidelines in the State of Montana, as it leaves "no ability" for the rehabilitation of the defendant.
"Frankly, that's why we've become the process of not only appealing his conviction, but challenging the sentence imposed."
With files from CBC Calgary News at 6