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Armed Robber Is Spared Jail as 2 Senators Write Letters

February 29, 1996| From Associated Press

BILLINGS, Mont. — A 19-year-old armed robber from a wealthy family was spared jail Wednesday in a case in which two U.S. senators wrote letters to the trial judge seeking leniency.

The letters from Sens. Max Baucus, who received $4,500 in campaign contributions from the defendant's family, and Conrad Burns played no part in the sentencing, said District Judge Diane Barz. "Those kinds of letters are inappropriate," the judge said, adding they cast "an appearance of impropriety" over the court.

Baucus said he returned the campaign contributions.

Jamie Shelhamer, who admitted robbing a convenience store at gunpoint for $180, was given a six-year suspended sentence, with 18 months in Utah and Oregon treatment programs for young adults. She was convicted Nov. 7 after a nonjury trial.

Baucus and Burns asked Barz not to send Shelhamer to prison, proposing instead a juvenile treatment program for nonviolent teens that is offered in Massachusetts.

Deputy County Atty. Dan Schwarz, who had recommended a 15-year sentence, said he could not remember another armed robber in Billings escaping prison time.

Baucus said he was not aware of the family's campaign contributions when he wrote. He said he was merely trying to help a family he has known for years.

Federal campaign records show that seven days after Shelhamer's conviction, her father, John Shelhamer, and his sister, Linda, donated $500 each to Baucus' campaign. Baucus wrote his letter Jan. 5. Four days later, Shelhamer's parents gave him $3,500.

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