“I Am Not a Monster”:

Schifferns gets life for deliberate homicide of McGregor
Thursday, July 18, 2019
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Courtesy Photo & Photo by Eleanor Guerrero
(Right) Thomas Schifferns was sentenced to life in prison for the death of (left) James “Jimmy” McGregor.

“I Am Not a Monster”: 

Schifferns gets life for deliberate homicide of McGregor


By Eleanor Guerrero

CCN Senior Reporter


On Wednesday, July 10, Thomas Schifferns was sentenced in Carbon County District Court for the intentional homicide of James “Jimmy” McGregor. 

District Court Judge Matthew Wald sentenced Schifferns to life in prison but did not restrict him for parole. Schifferns maintained the death was an accident to the end.

“I loved him,” said Schifferns in an emotional statement he read to the judge. “He was my best friend, probably my only friend.” 

Wald noted after Schifferns continued to insist it was “a tragic accident” that “I need to take into account you are duly convicted of deliberate homicide.” 

McGregor, 63, of Red Lodge was shot and killed at Bear Track Trail on Feb. 19, 2018. 

Carbon County Attorney Alex Nixon, for the State, called Schifferns’ story, a “patently unbelievable account.” 

The defendant, represented by Gregory Paskell, offered one witness, his mother-in-law, Susan Russell, who repeatedly stated, “That is not who he is.” 

Russell thought Schifferns will use the years of incarceration wisely. She has been around Schifferns for years. “I know T.J. better than his own parents do. He is not a cold hearted, mean person at all…drugs…it does change a person…” She said he is sober now.

When Russell talked of Schifferns’ years of struggle with substance abuse and that others have such problems too, Nixon said to her on cross, “You realize a lot of people have problems with alcohol without killing anybody?”

Nixon asked Russell about her daughter, Schifferns’ wife, “He’s threatened her before? There’s been guns involved before?” 

Russell admitted to making statements to Montana Division of Criminal Investigation that Schifferns brandished a gun in her presence. “We’ve had bad arguments.”

Nixon said to Russell, “He didn’t care enough for James McGregor to call 911? That didn’t stop him from trying to leave the scene?” Nixon continued to challenge Schifferns’ concern for McGregor saying he deliberately threw the gun away and bought camping equipment for an alleged get away.

Nixon submitted three impact statements by McGregor’s father, brother and sister. 

Obviously distraught, Schifferns had to pause several times during his statement. He made another motion for his guilty plea to be set aside and again, Wald denied it. 

Carbon County Attorney Alex Nixon said, “Certainly this is disappointing that the defendant is not willing to take responsibility for his actions.” 

Schifferns insists they only intended a fishing trip. Paskell noted Schifferns signed a statement of responsibility. 


Schifferns took his moment to express his dissatisfaction with the community. He noted when he met McGregor, he never knew he had money. “I care more about Jimmy than anyone in this town. If everyone cared about Jim as much as they say… Where were you when he went walking in a snowstorm? Where were you when he needed to go to the laundry? Where were you when he needed to get a ride…to go for the doctors, when he wanted to be treated like a human being?”

He continued, “No one else gave him a clean place to live, a warm meal three times a day and care for him. Nobody was there, only me, always me. There were no so-called friends. There were no family. There were no people from his church to help him.”

He emotionally declared, “Never not one time did I ever ask anything from him. Never one time did I steal from him, never did I take advantage of him, Never one time did I ever tell him I wouldn’t be there for him.” 

He thought about the day of the murder. “I never, not knowingly or purposely, meant my best friend any harm that day.” He said he was “extremely intoxicated” when they decided to “play with the pistol.”

He declared, “I am not a bad man. I’m not a monster like these newspapers try to paint me as.” 

He claimed, “The people who know me know I am the first person to give the shirt off my back to someone in need. I am not normally a violent person. I’m very shy and uncertain of the world around me. I know I lost my best friend that day but I also lost a big part of myself.” 

While Schifferns admits he deserves to be punished for the death of McGregor he maintains, “but I do not deserve to be convicted of a crime I did not commit.”

Schifferns begged the court for mercy. “Everyday I open my eyes I feel remorse not only for what I did but mostly because it was my Jim.” Schifferns admitted he was an alcoholic and that he and McGregor sometimes “played with guns.”

He asked that the judge not hate him, see him as a person with a soul and understand that it was an accident. 

Judge Wald replied that he does not hate him and brought him quickly to the issue at hand. “I believe Mr. McGregor was a friend and you may have done many things for him. But he’s also a victim in a deliberate homicide. Pure and simple. We’re not here because of an accident. You’ve been convicted of deliberate homicide and that’s what you’re going to be sentenced for. You’ve had due process.”

Nixon said despite the seriousness of the crime he found the plea agreement appropriate. “It’s hard to minimize the impact. Not only on the family but the community, too.” He found sufficient argument under state law for no parole and asked the Court to give serious consideration before granting any parole.

Paskell argued vigorously for the Court to be “just, fair, merciful.” Research proved that hope made for more positive internments. He asked that Schifferns be given hope of parole while serving his sentence. 

While there had only been one felony, in 2004, in Schifferns’ past, Nixon argued there were a number of allegations of threats of violence, and the brandishing of a gun. 

Wald sentenced Schifferns to life in prison at a designated Montana Correction facility and said he would not restrict his parole mentioning Paskell’s comment of hope motivating a prisoner to make the incarceration a more positive use of his time. 

Schifferns, 34, could be eligible for a parole review after 29 years. He is credited for 497 days served and ordered to pay restitution of $2,301 to the Montana Crime Victims Compensation Fund. Should he ever receive parole, conditions were designated from the pre-sentence report.