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Darby man charged in fatal Hamilton shooting
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Darby man charged in fatal Hamilton shooting

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Darby man charged in fatal shooting

Jamie Michael Conway, 43, of Darby, appeared via video in court Monday.

A Darby man was charged with deliberate homicide and assault with a weapon following a fatal shooting Friday in Hamilton.

Jamie Michael Conway, 43, appeared Monday in Ravalli County Justice Court via video.

Conway is charged with shooting Peter Vanvallis, 52, of Hamilton, and pointing a pistol at a woman.

A woman called the Ravalli County 911 Center at 10:17 p.m. to report there had been a gunshot at her home and that she believed a man was dead, according to charging documents.

Before the woman spoke to the dispatcher, she was heard on the phone yelling “Go, go, go!”

By the time Hamilton police arrived at the home, the woman and Vanvallis were at the residence alone. Vanvallis was found lying on the floor inside the home, blocking the front door in a closed position.

During an interview with the police, the woman said she and a male friend had been at her home when Vanvallis and another woman arrived. At some point after that, Conway also came inside the residence.

The woman told police that about a week prior to that, Vanvallis’ residence had been burglarized.

She also said another woman had been at her home earlier in the week and that she had noticed a Facebook Messenger conversation between that woman and Conway that made it appear the two were suspects in the Vanvallis’ burglary.

The homeowner told police she shared that information with Vanvallis.

Shortly before the 911 call, the woman said she and the woman who had arrived with Vanvallis were in her bedroom when they heard Conway and Vanvallis begin arguing in the living room. The woman said she went into the living room briefly and saw Conway sitting on the couch and Vanvallis standing about three feet away from him.

She went back into the bedroom. The argument continued until she heard a single gunshot.

The woman told police she ran into the living room and saw Vanvallis leaning against the wall by the front door. She said he called her by name, slid down the wall, and fell to the floor.

At this point, the woman said Conway was hunched over and pointing his gun at Vanvallis, according to the affidavit.

The woman said she went to Vanvallis. When she looked up, the woman said she found Conway pointing his handgun directly in her face, the affidavit said.

At that point, the woman told police that Conway said: “Is anybody else going to do something stupid?”

The woman said she believed Conway was going to shoot her. Instead, Conway backed away until he reached the kitchen and started doing something with his handgun.

A police detective interviewed the other man who was at the home at the time of the shooting.

That man said the argument between Vanvallis and Conway wasn’t physical. He said Vanvallis was standing over Conway when the shot was fired. The man said he did not see Vanvallis with a weapon at the time he was shot.

The man said he “got scared” after the shot was fired and ran out the back of the residence. He left by himself in the homeowner’s vehicle.

During a subsequent investigation, a police detective found a .40 caliber spent casing on a couch cushion. He also observed a bullet hole in the trim of the front door’s interior. The angle of the hole in the door trim was upward, which would indicate the bullet was fired from a lower position, the affidavit said.

The detective also found a .40 caliber live round in the home’s kitchen near the spot the woman said Conway was doing something with his handgun.

Police used the Ravalli County Sheriff’s Office canine to follow tracks left in the snow to a residence on Adirondac Avenue. The tracks led to an area outside the home to a point where a person got onto a bicycle and rode away. The tracks entered the asphalt road and couldn’t be followed farther.

The affidavit said Vanvallis' body had gunshot wounds on his left hand and torso.

On Sunday, Feb. 28, Conway made arrangements with Ravalli County Sheriff Steve Holton to turn himself into the police. Conway turned over a .40 caliber Glock semi-automatic handgun to Holton, the affidavit said.

In an interview with a police detective, Conway said he regularly open-carries a pistol for self-protection.

The affidavit said Conway reported that Vanvallis was “blaming” him for something during the argument, but he “wasn’t paying much attention.” Conway said Vanvallis stood up and pulled a gun on him, but he told the detective he “didn’t think much about it” because Vanvallis was his friend.

Conway told the detective he initially thought Vanvallis was going to “butt stroke” him with the gun, but then Vanvallis pointed the gun at him.

The affidavit said Conway admitted he pulled his gun from its holster and shot Vanvallis once.

During the search of the home and Vanvallis’ body, no handgun or other weapon was found, the affidavit said.

Conway said he was afraid of everyone else in the home, adding they were yelling at him, which is why he refused to give up his gun for his own safety.

Conway reported that his handgun jammed and that he cleared the jam in the kitchen where the live .40 caliber round was found.

After leaving the residence, Conway said he found a place to sleep in Corvallis that night.

Ravalli County Attorney Bill Fulbright asked Justice Jennifer Ray for a $250,000 bond. Conway’s attorney, Sarah Gray, said her client is disabled, lives with his mother in Darby and is not a flight risk. She asked for an own recognizance bond.

Gray said Conway turned himself into law enforcement.

“He didn’t have to do that,” she said. “He did it because it was the right thing to do. There will absolutely be a self-defense claim in this case.”

Ray doubled Fulbright’s request and set bail at $500,000.

“Even though you have a very minimal criminal history, I can’t, in good conscience, let someone out on $250,000 when there is obviously a dead person,” Ray said.

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