Criminal justice

The shooter next door



John Moffatt never thought he would ever live so close to the man who shot him at a Lewistown high school almost 30 years ago.

On Dec. 4, 1986, Kristofer Hans shot and killed Henrietta Smith, a teacher at Fergus High School, and wounded Moffatt. Hans, who was 14 years old at the time, was sentenced to more than 200 years in prison. It was the longest sentence ever handed down in Fergus County.

Since Hans' conviction and Moffatt's physical recovery from being shot in the abdomen that day, the two have taken long but separate journeys. Moffatt and his family took one of forgiveness. Hans recently made significant steps of his own when the Montana Board of Parole and Pardons granted him the opportunity to participate in a series of work-release programs that may eventually lead him to freedom in 2015.

Moffatt says that in the latest parole hearing, he decided he would accept whatever outcome the board handed down. He was, however, caught off guard when Fern Johnson, executive director of the Montana Board of Parole and Pardons, told him that Hans had been accepted at the Missoula Prerelease Center, barely a mile away from where the Moffatts now live.

Johnson says that Hans could be placed in another prerelease facility, but she was not aware of any that had accepted him.

Moffatt says he feels that Hans deserves his chance at rehabilitation and, eventually, a return to society. But Moffatt hadn't considered the situation of living so close to him.

"I can't say there's not a little bit of unease," Moffatt says.

Moffatt's wife, Maggie, says she would prefer to see him placed in another facility further away. When Hans eventually qualifies for leave passes from the prerelease center, she adds, the possibility of accidentally running into him somewhere in Missoula is a disturbing notion.

"He knows we're here," Maggie says. "I want him to be successful, but there is that fear too."

As of press time, Hans was still in Deer Lodge, awaiting completion of the final administrative steps toward prerelease.

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