SANDPOINT — A delusional Blanchard man who ambushed two Bonner County sheriff’s deputies in a shooting last year was sentenced Tuesday to up to 50 years in prison.
First District Judge Barbara Buchanan ordered Adam Deacon Foster to serve two determinant 12 1/2-year terms for attempting to kill deputies Michael Gagnon and Justin Penn. She further ordered that the fixed portion of the sentences be served consecutively because of grievous injuries sustained by the two deputies during the brief gunbattle outside Foster’s home on Jan. 16, 2017.
Despite being struck multiple times by hollow-point bullets fired from Foster’s .44 magnum revolver, Gagnon and Penn returned fire and wounded Foster, which brought an end to the firefight.
Foster, 32, was charged with two counts of attempted murder and sentencing enhancements for inflicting great bodily harm on the deputies. He pleaded guilty to the offenses.
Gagnon told the court that Foster’s troubles dated back a year before the shootings, when he allegedly attacked his mother during an argument. However, deputies held off on arresting Foster on the misdemeanor battery charge due to his volatility and penchant for carrying a high-powered revolver.
However, the deputies were compelled to make the arrest after his mother reported that Foster had grown increasingly paranoid and was threatening to kill their neighbors. Foster’s mother was also fearful that he may kill her, Gagnon said.
“We both agreed that this was serious and credible. We agreed that we had to act immediately,” Gagnon said.
Foster’s mother, Audrey, testified that she never felt threatened by her son, however.
Starkly different accounts of the confrontation outside Foster’s home emerged during the sentencing hearing.
Foster told the court that he had become increasingly concerned that he was being targeted for torture and death by a gang of violent racists because of his Mexican heritage. He firmly believed Penn and Gagnon were assailants, not law officers.
“I honestly thought these threats were real and my life was in danger. I understand with the help of a psychiatrist that these could have been delusions, but it was real to me — just as you are real in this courtroom,” Foster told Buchanan.
Video footage captured by a camera worn by Gagnon, which was entered into evidence during the hearing, told a remarkably different story. It showed deputies confronting Foster and informing he was under arrest. Foster protested and refused commands to put his hands up before dashing around the side of his home. Video showed the deputies being downed by gunfire when they pursued him.
Foster, who has been diagnosed with a delusion disorder, conceded during the hearing that his recollection bore no resemblance to the video footage. He also offered apologies to the deputies and their families.
Bonner County Prosecutor Louis Marshall recommended a 50-year sentence — 15 years for each count of attempted murder plus another 20 for the sentencing enhancement. He argued that the attempted murder counts should be served consecutively rather than concurrently because Foster took up a concealed position, assumed a shooting stance and targeted the deputies’ center masses, actions which showed a homicidal intent instead of fear-based reactions.
“I know it happened quickly, but that truly was an ambush. His intent was to murder. His specific intent was to murder those two officers,” Marshall said.
Chief Public Defender Janet Whitney said the lack of an insanity defense left her little to work with.
“There is no defense open to us or to Adam,” noting that mentally ill people are treated no differently than offenders who commit crimes with a sound mind.
Whitney recommended concurrent 10- to 20-year terms and pointed out that Idaho law allows judges to consider a defendant’s mental health when weighing a sentence.
The wives of Penn and Gagnon, meanwhile, told the court of the emotional and financial upheaval their families faced in the wake of the shootings. Julie Gagnon said she is sympathetic the plight of the mentally ill, but said Foster crossed a line when he unleashed physical violence.
“He put actions to the voices in his head that told him to kill people that day. Mr. Foster has proven he is dangerously, dangerously mentally ill,” Julie Gagnon said.
Penn’s wife, Leah, called on the court to impose a 50-year sentence and anything less would undermine the seriousness of the offenses.
“The bar needs to be set high today. It needs to be known that trying to murder law enforcement officers in Bonner County will not be tolerated,” Leah Penn said.
Marshall said Michael Gagnon, who was wearing body armor, was shot twice in the chest. Foster then opened fire on Justin Penn striking him in the wrist and back and fired another shot into Gagnon’s back, which came perilously close to killing him. Doctor’s said the bullet only missed his heart because the organ happened to be contracting.
“I’m literally alive by half a heartbeat,” said Gagnon.
Regardless of what Foster believes he saw that day, Justin Penn said there was no sidestepping a simple fact.
“He still tried to kill two people. He tried to take away two husbands, two fathers, two sons and two protectors of this community. This kind of behavior cannot be tolerated in this county and should hold severe consequences,” he said.
Buchanan said she would have imposed a 50-year sentence without possibility of parole if not for his mental illness, which would effectively be a life sentence. Buchanan instead opted to impose a 50-year term, the first 25 years of which are fixed.
Buchanan ruled that Foster still suffers from significant delusions.
“If you’re released from custody, my fear is that you would not continue to take your medication, you’d continue to have these delusions and everyone would be at risk again,” Buchanan said.
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