HAMILTON, Mont. (AP) — A 73-year-old man who threatened from behind bars to forcibly take back the western Montana ranch he lost in a 1979 divorce has been sentenced to 75 years in prison for intimidating and stalking its owners.
The sentence ends the long-running case against John Fesler Lance II, who was so defiant in his claim to the property that he spent nearly 30 years in prison for threats over its court-ordered sale and then confronted the owners as soon as he was free.
Lance told the judge Wednesday that if he were released, he would again try to take back the ranch.
"You effectively described why I could never put you on probation," District Judge Jeffrey Langton said, "and why I don't think you should ever be released from prison again."
The defendant looked thin in his orange jumpsuit in court, saying he had been on a 10-day hunger strike and would fast without food or liquid until he dies. He went back to the state prison Wednesday.
Lance spent 27 years behind bars after convictions beginning in the mid-1980s for intimidating judges, attorneys and others involved in the court-mandated sale of the ranch. In recent years, he sent letters to current owners Lee and Lucinda Hayne and their attorney that threatened to use all force necessary to take his ranch back, including kidnapping, the couple said.
He was released from prison last March and showed up the next day at Lucinda Hayne's workplace. He spent April through July in jail for violating a court order of protection.
Lance was arrested again after going to the ranch on Sept. 15 and arguing that the Haynes were trespassing and he had the right to use force to evict them. They held him at gunpoint until deputies arrived.
Lance, who was acting as his own attorney, refused to participate in his February trial and was convicted of felony intimidation, stalking, violating a protective order and trespassing.
Ravalli County Attorney Bill Fulbright sought a 75- to 100-year prison sentence, arguing that Lance "refuses to follow the basic rules of society."
"Given that, it's our belief that the only recourse we're left with is to put prison bars between this defendant and the community," Fulbright said.
The Haynes said it will be some time before they come off "high alert" and can feel safe on their property near Florence.