After a three-day trial and more than seven hours of deliberation, a Gallatin County jury found a Kentucky woman guilty Thursday of misdemeanor assault.
Mary Ann McCulley, 54, was on trial for assault with a weapon, a felony that carries a maximum 20-year prison sentence. But the jury convicted her of the lesser misdemeanor offense.
McCulley hugged her attorney, Chris Petaja, when she heard the verdict in District Judge Mike Salvagni’s courtroom.
“There is a God,” McCulley said as she left the courtroom with a Gallatin County deputy.
McCulley was expected to be released from jail Thursday night after paying a $575 fine. She has been in jail on $1 million bail since April 25. She has already served more than the maximum six-month sentence for her misdemeanor conviction.
McCulley was arrested after fleeing a conference room where she was accused of threatening an attorney with a gun. She brought the gun in her coat pocket to a civil lawsuit mediation meeting with representatives of American Land Title.
The attorney, Bob Planalp, who represents the title company, the company’s owner, Brad Stratton, and U.S. Bank attorney Cassie Dellwo were at the meeting with McCulley when she entered the conference room, slapped documents on a table and insisted they sign a settlement offer.
Planalp said he saw the gun in McCulley’s hand, but McCulley claimed Planalp took it from her coat pocket.
During closing arguments, Chief Deputy County Attorney Todd Whipple read snippets of menacing Facebook postings and threatening emails McCulley wrote to Planalp.
“It is all I can do to not personally come to Montana and slaughter you and your family,” Whipple read from the email. “If I were you, I would not be able to sleep ever. Look over your shoulder at all times.”
Whipple said Planalp was terrified.
“Do you leave your house? Do you wonder what that car is doing behind you? Do you call the police?” he asked. “Yeah, because you are scared.”
During the trial, McCulley denied sending the threatening email.
Whipple said McCulley bought two guns in Kentucky days before the mediation meeting. He said she came to the meeting intending on intimidating Planalp.
“That’s how she’s going to get what she wants,” Whipple said, holding up the gun enshrouded in an evidence bag. “This is not simple assault, this is not a bar fight. This is someone who brought a gun to mediation.”
Defense attorneys argued Planalp, Stratton and Dellwo gave conflicting versions of what happened.
Defense attorney Casey Moore said the victims felt comfortable enough that they let police, who were there for security reasons, leave before the incident occurred.
“She didn’t make any verbal threats,” he said.
Moore also called his client “brave” for taking the stand when she didn’t have to subject herself to questioning.
“That counts for something,” Moore said. “She’s not an attorney. She’s a photographer.”