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Man sentenced to life in prison for killing uncle on Fond du Lac Reservation

Andrew Gokee (Photo courtesy of WDIO-TV)

CARLTON, Minn. — Andrew Gokee was a preserver and protector of the Ojibwe language and Anishinaabe culture.

Gokee helped build bridges for the Native American community as a longtime official in the University of Wisconsin System. He created a language camp on the Red Cliff Reservation, where his family started traditional powwows some 40 years ago. In the final weeks of his life, Gokee was working to keep the Ojibwe language from disappearing on the Fond du Lac Reservation.

Nearly two years after he was shot to death at age 56 by his nephew, Gokee's family is still searching for answers and dealing with the fallout from what they described as a "horrific and tragic loss" to the collective Native American community.

"His life was taken too soon," daughter Holly Gauthier said. "He will be missed by all."

A handful of family members gathered at the Carlton County Courthouse on Monday, Feb. 24, as Gokee's killer, 34-year-old James Francis Montano, was formally sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

That fate was sealed last month, when a jury found Montano guilty of premeditated first-degree murder for opening fire on his uncle outside his father's residence on the Fond du Lac Reservation on April 20, 2018. He also was convicted of attempted premeditated murder for shooting at his cousin, Gokee's son, Hudson Gauthier, who was grazed with a bullet to the back of the head.

Because Minnesota law mandates a life term without release for premeditated murder, there was little to argue at Monday's hearing, but it provided an opportunity for family members to honor Gokee's memory.

Holly Gauthier described her father as her "biggest supporter." Just months before Gokee's death, Gauthier's son, 14-year-old Jason Pero, was fatally shot by a sheriff's deputy on the Bad River Reservation.

"I still find myself reaching for the phone, wanting to call my dad like I did every single day," she said in a statement to the court.

Holly Gauthier, who suffers from vision loss, was helped to the counsel table to listen as an audio statement she pre-recorded was played in the courtroom. She said her daughter cries every night over Gokee's death, while her youngest son will not have any memories of his grandfather.

Gokee had just started a new position with the Fond du Lac Band and was staying at the Kari Road home of his brother-in-law, Michael Montano, when he was killed.

According to evidence presented at trial, Gokee was preparing to go see his girlfriend in Wisconsin, dropping off his son at Black Bear Casino, when the shooting occurred around 11:30 p.m. Prosecutors told the jury that James Montano retrieved a rifle and laid in wait in front of Gokee's SUV, shooting both men.

Gauthier escaped serious injury, but Gokee was struck by a close-range shot to the temple and died two days later. Prosecutors said Montano gave chase to Gauthier around the property before Michael Montano intervened, allowing Gauthier to retrieve a revolver from the residence. Gauthier testified that he shot James Montano in the chest when he refused to retreat.

The defense unsuccessfully contended that Gauthier was the one responsible for killing his own father, telling the jury that Montano did not shoot anyone.

Carlton County Attorney Lauri Ketola called the defense theory a "cowardly attack" on a grieving son.

"How do you even begin to put words to the impact that the actions of James Montano have had on Hudson Gauthier?" the prosecutor asked.

Judge Leslie Beiers granted Ketola's request to sentence Montano to 15 years in prison for the attempted murder of Gauthier, to be served consecutively with the life term — a symbolic recognition that two victims were targeted by what the judge called a "senseless act of violence."

Gokee was a father of four and grandfather of 10. A member of the Red Cliff Band, he was the longtime director of the Native American Center at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point and was working on a doctoral degree at the time of his death.

His family brought to court a proclamation issued by then-Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker honoring Gokee after his death. The document was read into the record by Assistant Carlton County Attorney Jeff Boucher.

Beiers took a moment to directly address the family before sentencing Montano.

"No sentence will bring back Mr. Gokee," she said. "I can only hope that your wonderful memories bring comfort and you're able to find a meaningful way to honor his legacy. Be the thing you love most about him."

Asked if he had anything to say, Montano replied: "Not at this time, your honor."

Under Minnesota law, any appeal of the case would go directly to the Minnesota Supreme Court.

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