Onstott sentenced in gun incident at church

Juneau man receives prison term for assault, probation violation

Posted: Tuesday, October 02, 2001

A man who brandished a gun and threatened to kill himself during a church service in April was ordered Monday to serve 18 months of a four-and-a-half-year prison sentence.

James Onstott, 62, was sentenced in Juneau Superior Court to four years in prison with two and half years suspended, leaving 18 months to serve. He was sentenced to an additional six months for violating probation stemming from a previous stalking conviction. He has been in prison since the April incident and gets credit for time served. His sentence can be further reduced by eight months for good behavior.

Onstott pleaded guilty to one count of felony assault and one count of misdemeanor probation violation in August.

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

Onstott was charged with walking into the United Pentecostal Church on the evening of April 8 with a gun. Police said he threatened to kill himself and asked to see his then-wife, who was at the church at the time. A six-hour standoff with police followed and Onstott eventually was arrested.

Due to a previous stalking conviction, Onstott was not allowed to see his wife or to enter the church.

Assistant District Attorney David Brower played a tape for the court Monday of an Aug. 15 phone conversation between Onstott and his son. During the phone call Onstott said if he got out of jail he would "finish what he started." He also blamed his ex-wife for his incarceration as well as what he called Brower's "vindictiveness" against him.

In court Monday, Onstott made a tearful plea to Judge Patricia Collins, asking for leniency.

"I'm just a God-fearing man who loved his wife and tried to protect her from that devil of a preacher at that church. I've broken laws but I'm not a lawyer. I don't know what laws I broke. I just don't know how to cope with this situation," Onstott said.

"I just went to that church to say goodbye and tell her I love her, then I was going to step outside and shoot myself," he said. "In the past year I've lost my home, job, cars, boats, tools, been put in a mental institute, been beaten, shot. My God what can you expect. Haven't I been punished enough?"

Following Onstott's statement, Collins considered throwing out the plea-bargain agreement reached with the state in favor of a guilty-but-mentally-unfit plea. However, Brower and David Seid, attorney for Onstott, said they felt he was mentally competent.

Had he been found guilty but mentally unfit, Onstott would have gone to a psychiatric hospital until he was deemed competent by the court.


Melanie Plenda can be reached at mplenda@juneauempire.com.

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