A Livingston man accused of shooting a woman in the Taco Bell parking lot in Bozeman last December pleaded guilty Tuesday to felony assault charges.

Nathaniel John Budd, 23, appeared in Gallatin County District Court Judge Holly Brown's courtroom, where he pleaded guilty to two counts of assault with a weapon and one count of possession of dangerous drugs with intent to distribute, all felonies.

Budd was initially charged with two counts of attempted deliberate homicide in the December shooting. He was scheduled to go to trial on Nov. 4.

During his court appearance, Budd read a prepared statement, admitting to shooting the woman. He also said he had marijuana that he intended to sell.

Budd's plea came as part of a deal struck between attorneys. Gallatin County Attorney Marty Lambert said he is recommending 40 years in the Montana State Prison with no time suspended.

However, the plea agreement is non-binding, meaning Brown could impose a different sentence. The maximum Budd faces is 60 years, a $150,000 fine or both. He could also be ordered to pay restitution to the victims.

Brown will sentence Budd on Jan. 29.

According to charging documents:

On Dec. 1, at about 1:30 a.m., Bozeman officers responded to a reported shooting at Taco Bell, 2817 W. Main St., in the Gallatin Valley Mall parking lot. A woman was shot twice, once through the right leg and once in her upper back, with a .45-caliber handgun.

Budd fled in a silver Honda Civic. He was arrested a short time later without incident by officers on 19th Avenue at the Interstate 90 interchange.

The victims, who were in a Honda SUV, told investigators they were in the Gallatin Valley Mall parking lot waiting for traffic so they could pull into the restaurant's drive-through. Budd was in his car behind the two, honking his horn and revving his engine, the victims said.

Both victims gestured out their windows for Budd to pass them. At one point, the woman got out of the car and swore at Budd, telling him to go around.

After the woman got back into the car, they pulled into the drive-through. Budd then pulled up next to the passenger side of the victims' vehicle.

The man and woman rolled down their windows. The woman, who was in the passenger seat, told Budd he was supposed to go around and made an insulting statement about Budd's vehicle, then rolled up her window. A moment later, Budd shot her.

Budd told investigators he had bought food and was sitting in his car eating when the victims' truck pulled up next to him and a woman opened the passenger door. However, Budd said he couldn't remember if she actually got out of the truck.

The woman started acting crazy and screaming, Budd said. He thought she had a knife in her hand. Budd saw the male driver lean over and look toward him, which he said made him fear that the man had a weapon. Budd said he grabbed his pistol from the driver's door pocket and fired two to three shots at the man and woman. He said he wanted to “stop the threat.”

Both victims denied brandishing a weapon, but the man later told police he had a pocketknife.

Investigators found a shotgun, .45-caliber handgun magazines, ammunition, more than a quarter pound of marijuana and a digital scale in Budd's vehicle.

Following the shooting, Budd was held on $100,000 bail. He posted that and was released Jan. 7. However, Budd was jailed on May 8 on a $500,000 warrant after prosecutors say he broke the rules of his release by using illegal drugs. Budd has been in the Gallatin County jail since.

Whitney Bermes can be reached at wbermes@dailychronicle.com or 582-2648. Follow her on Twitter at @wabermes.

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