BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) – A Washington state man said he thought he was “spending the rest of my life in jail” after his arrest in the shooting of a hitchhiker who apparently shot himself in a bizarre publicity stunt.
Lloyd Christopher Danielson III was released Thursday _ 13 days after he was blamed in the shooting of a photographer along a rural Montana highway. The 52-year-old pleaded guilty to driving while intoxicated and was sentenced to time served in Roosevelt County.
Authorities say the hitchhiker, Ray Dolin, has admitted he shot himself in the arm and claimed to be the victim of a drive-by in hopes of a drawing attention to his plans for a photographic memoir.
Danielson said he does not know and never saw Dolin, but authorities were convinced he shot the 39-year-old man from Julian, W.Va., without provocation.
“I just thought I was spending the rest of my life in jail. They were convinced I was the guy and I couldn’t tell them (otherwise),” Danielson said in an interview with The Associated Press. “I’ve found out since that he couldn’t pick my truck out of a lineup or pick me out of a lineup.”
Danielson said he has since lost his job in the booming oil town of Williston, N.D., and will likely head back to Washington.
Danielson was initially charged with felony assault with a weapon after he was stopped June 9 near Culbertson, Mont., about 100 miles away from where Dolin was found.
Authorities said the arrest was based on Dolin’s description of being shot by someone in a maroon pickup _ similar to what Danielson was driving.
But when authorities searched Danielson’s pickup, they found no gun or ammunition.
The alleged confession from Dolin came after authorities searched a field near the site of the shooting and found a small pistol that was traced back to Dolin.
Investigators discovered Dolin bought the Derringer June 4, took a bus to Sidney, Mont., then hitchhiked across the eastern part of the state to where he shot himself along U.S. Route 2 and flagged down a passerby seeking help.
Danielson was sentenced on the DUI charge to 24 hours in jail and a $650 fine. Poplar City Judge Traci Harada gave him credit for time served and $50 toward each day he spent in jail, canceling out the fine and allowing him to walk free.
“It feels good,” he said after his release. “I’m still kind of confused here. I have no idea what’s happened other than what’s been told to me since I got out.”
Harada said the sentence was appropriate.
“Given the circumstances that poor person went through, maybe that did have a bearing in the back of my mind,” Harada said of Danielson. “I felt it was the fairest thing to happen.”
Dolin’s precise whereabouts are unknown, and he has not been arrested. Valley County officials said they believe he remains in the care of a Veterans Affairs hospital in Montana or Wyoming.
Valley County Attorney Nicholas Murnion said charges against Dolin are pending. He faces potential charges including tampering with evidence, obstructing a police officer, and providing false information to law enforcement, Murnion said.
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