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Sentencing delayed for Billings man involved in crash that killed Laurel teen

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Posted at 11:05 AM, Jun 12, 2024

BILLINGS - A sentencing hearing scheduled Wednesday in Yellowstone County District Court for the man charged following the death of a Laurel teen was postponed when the judge in the case disqualified herself.

Judge Ashley Harada did not give a reason for the move to disqualify herself from the case just a short time before the sentencing hearing was set to begin in her courtroom Wednesday morning. Judges are not required to provide a reason for such a disqualification.

Payton Hunter was scheduled to be sentenced for his role in the Aug. 3, 2021 death of 19-year-old Alexus 'Lexy' Pyle, who was a passenger in a car driven by Hunter involved in a two-vehicle collision on First Avenue North in Billings.

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Payton Hunter at his arraignment on felony charges of negligent homicide and criminal endangerment for the death of 19-year-old Alexus 'Lexy' Pyle.

Hunter was initially charged in April 2022 with two felonies - negligent homicide and criminal endangerment - after prosecutors alleged he was speeding and had been drinking alcohol before the crash.

The driver of the other vehicle in the collision, Justin Bighair, was charged at the same time with identical offenses but those charges were dismissed by prosecutors in January, according to court records.

Hunter entered a plea agreement with prosecutors in March that resulted in the negligent homicide charge being reduced to criminal endangerment. The original criminal endangerment charge in the case was dismissed.

Recent court records filed in the case show the prosecution was set to argue Hunter should receive a 10-year prison sentence, while the defense intended to argue Hunter deserved to receive a much more lenient sentence of 10 years to the Department of Corrections with all that time deferred.

The case was reassigned to Judge Jessica Fehr and a new sentencing date has yet to be scheduled.

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