Judge: Jermain Charlo’s ex-boyfriend guilty of illegal firearms possession, false statements

By: - May 2, 2023 12:52 pm

Photo illustration by Getty Images.

Nearly five years ago, Jermain Charlo went missing in Missoula, and she still hasn’t been found, but this week, a federal judge convicted her ex-boyfriend of illegally possessing firearms, including shortly after she disappeared.

Michael Blake DeFrance, 29, was found guilty of being in possession of a firearm and three counts of making false statements, according to a news release Monday from the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

In 2013, DeFrance was sentenced for partner or family member assault against Charlo in Sanders County. According to reporting by the Missoulian, DeFrance admitted he hit Charlo, and he pleaded guilty to the assault, which meant he couldn’t have guns.

Charlo went missing on June 16, 2018, last seen on security footage around 1 a.m. near the Badlander, a downtown bar, the Missoulian reported. An initial indictment for firearms possession was dated June 27, 11 days after Charlo went missing, the Missoulian said, citing court documents.

In an earlier report, KPAX said search warrants showed Charlo’s cell phone was active near Evaro outside Missoula until 10 a.m. the day she disappeared, June 16.

The story said she was 23 years old at the time and a mother, and she became a well-known face in the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Persons crisis in the state and worldwide. A report from the Montana Department of Justice said American Indians made up 30% of all missing persons in 2021 but were just 6.7% of the population.

This week, U.S. District Judge Dana Christensen found DeFrance guilty on all counts in a second superseding indictment, including prohibited person in possession of a firearm and three counts of false statement during a firearms transaction. The trial began on April 26 and concluded the next day.

In a statement Monday, U.S. Attorney Jesse Laslovich said he was thankful for Assistant U.S. Attorneys Jennifer Clark and Timothy Racicot as well as the FBI for their work on the case.

“These verdicts are victories for Montana women, domestic partners, and families,” Laslovich said. “The verdicts show that those like DeFrance who illegally possess firearms despite having been convicted of a domestic violence crime and make false statements on firearms forms so he could obtain guns at a pawn shop will be held accountable for their actions.”

Charlo’s aunt told the Missoulian she was pleased with the outcome.

“I am so excited,” Valenda Morigeau, Charlo’s aunt, said on Monday to the Missoulian. “I can’t even express how happy I am that we’re a step closer to bringing justice to Jermain.”

DeFrance faces a maximum 10 years in prison, a $250,000 fine, and three years of supervised release, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office. DeFrance was released pending further proceedings.

Since she went missing, the Missoula Police Department said it has been searching for Charlo, and the case in federal court came out of its investigation. Tuesday, Detective Guy Baker said the missing persons case remains active, and he continues to follow up on leads, although he was not at liberty to release details.

“She’s been missing just shy of five years, so her pattern of life obviously was deviated on June 16, 2018, and all of our efforts to determine what happened to her have come up without finding out what happened to her,” Baker said.

In court documents and at trial, the government alleged that on June 27, 2018, a Missoula detective located a Smith and Wesson .357-caliber revolver and a box of .357-caliber ammunition in the console of DeFrance’s truck, the news release said.

Two .22-caliber rifles were located under the back seat, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

On Oct. 2, 2018, law enforcement searched DeFrance’s residence on Evaro Hill near Missoula and located a .357-caliber revolver on a desk by the front door.

The detective recognized this gun as the revolver DeFrance had in his truck in June, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said.

DeFrance also had two rifles in his bedroom.

When asked if he knew he was not supposed to have guns, DeFrance replied, “I was never clear on that,” the news release said.

In addition, the government alleged that on three occasions in 2018, DeFrance completed Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives forms at a Missoula pawn shop in which he represented that he had not been convicted of a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence.

Sentencing is scheduled for September 21, 2023.

The news release said the case is part of Project Safe Neighborhoods, a program bringing together all levels of law enforcement and the communities they serve to reduce violent crime and gun violence, and to make neighborhoods safer for everyone.

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

Keila Szpaller
Keila Szpaller

Keila Szpaller is deputy editor of the Daily Montanan and covers education. Before joining States Newsroom Montana, she served as city editor of the Missoulian, the largest news outlet in western Montana.