Man who brandished a gun in church pleads guilty to charges

Up to 18 months in prison recommended in plea agreement

Posted: Thursday, August 30, 2001

A man who threatened to shoot himself while holding police at bay at a church on Glacier Highway in April pleaded guilty to a charge of felony assault Wednesday.

James Onstott, 62, also pleaded guilty to one count of violating probation at a Juneau Superior Court hearing.

The original Juneau grand jury indictment included eight additional counts of felony assault for each person who was in the church at the time of the standoff.

A recommendation of no more than 18 months in prison for the assault and nine months for violation of probation was included in the plea agreement.

Judge Patricia Collins will sentence Onstott on Sept. 25 and can accept the terms of the recommendation, reduce or increase the amount of jail time.

"We offered the plea in the interest of justice and in the interest of a resolution to the case," said Assistant District Attorney David Brower.

Brower said Onstott walked into the United Pentecostal Church of Juneau on the evening of April 8 carrying a gun. Onstott was on probation from a previous stalking conviction and was restricted from entering the church and from seeing his ex-wife, Brower said.

A member of the congregation called police and when officers arrived, Onstott pulled the gun out of his pocket and held it to his head, Brower said.

Onstott did not point the gun at anyone in the church but did fire one shot, Brower said. Onstott was in the church asking for his

estranged wife, who had managed to hide in a Sunday school classroom. After a lengthy standoff with police, Onstott handed the gun over and was arrested, Brower said.

Police originally charged Onstott with felony burglary, stalking, terroristic threatening and misconduct involving weapons.

Despite the plea agreement, Collins said he could receive up to five years for the felony assault charge with a possible fine of up to $50,000 and a mandatory surcharge of $100.

Onstott wiped tears from his eyes as Collins asked him if he understood the rights he was giving up by pleading guilty.

"Technically I am guilty of what it is ...," Onstott said. "I can't plead innocent when I am technically guilty. I told him (attorney David Seid) I would plead guilty and I think it's in my best interest to do that."

Melanie Plenda can be reached at

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