Price changes plea to guilty in Martin murder

A man accused of murdering an elderly Miles City resident last year changed his plea to guilty at a hearing Monday in the 16th Judicial District Court in Miles City.

Scott Austin Price, 38, plead guilty to deliberate homicide and aggravated kidnapping in connection with the Dec. 14 slaying of Ed Martin, and the tying up of Martin’s wife, Helen. 

If the court upholds the terms of a plea agreement, Price will be sentenced to life in prison, plus 10 years for using a weapon in commission of the crimes. The sentence would apply to each count, and they would be served concurrently. There would be no parole restriction, according to a plea agreement. 

Under Montana law, each of those charges could bring a sentence of death, life imprisonment, or 10-100 years in state prison, plus an additional 10 years for using a a knife to commit the crimes.

Price, who grew up in Miles City, will be sentenced at 1 p.m. on Monday, Dec. 5 by District Judge Michael Hayworth. 

Hayworth said that if his sentence is harsher than was agreed upon by the defense and Custer County, then Price would be allowed to withdraw his guilty pleas and stand trial. 

Hayworth ordered a pre-sentence investigation, and will use the one done in Missoula County, where Price is being held for a separate murder, instead of having a second investigation conducted. 

Price appeared at the hearing via an audio-visual connection from Missoula, where he has a change of plea hearing schedule for this afternoon in connection with the Dec. 21 murder of Lonette Keehner and the attempted murder of a second woman that same day. Her name has not been released.

Tuesday morning defense attorney Joe Zavatsky explained that in life imprisonment sentences, a person can be eligible for parole after 30 years, plus 2-1/2 years for the 10 years extension, so Price may be eligible for parole after 32-1/2 years. He would be at least 70 years old if and when released.

Zavatsky added that it is rare for someone to get parole the first time he or she is eligible.

Tuesday Custer County Attorney Wyatt Glade said that the plea agreement was made after visiting with Ed Martin’s family and the family approved it.

Price plead not guilty to the Custer County felony charges of intimidation, aggravated assault and theft at the hearing. Those charges are expected to be dropped at the sentencing hearing. 

Under questioning from defense attorneys Matt Wald and Zavatsky, and Custer County Attorney Wyatt Glade, Price admitted to causing Ed Martin’s death by stabbing, and said he did not feel his own life was threatened. He admitted to going back into the house and tying up Helen Martin and putting her in the basement to facilitate his escape. 

Price admitted that in the deliberate homicide and aggravated kidnapping crimes, he acted purposely or knowingly.

According to local court records, Price had come to the Martin’s home to look at a 2001 Chevrolet pickup truck that was for sale. After test driving the truck he expressed an interest in a fifth-wheel trailer, and he and Ed Martin went out to the trailer with flashlights.

A short time later Price returned with a large gash on the bridge of his nose and asked Helen Martin for a bandage. He told her he had cut it on the trailer.

In an interview with law enforcement agents in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, where he was captured, Price stated he and Ed Martin got into a disagreement over the price of the pickup.

Price claimed that Ed Martin, 78, hit him on the nose with a Maglite flashlight. Price said he then took a knife inside the trailer and stabbed Ed Martin in the neck, killing him.

He then went into the home and washed his face in the sink, then saw a safe on the kitchen table containing about $4,000 cash. Price said he then grabbed Helen Martin, tied her hands behind her back, placed her in the basement and closed the door.

He said he took the money and two cellular phones belonging to the Martins, and left the residence in the pickup he had test driven.

He said he threw the knife used to stab Ed Martin into the Yellowstone River.