Convicted killer accused of parole violation

Dec. 4—An Evergreen man convicted of strangling his neighbor to death during a fight 13 years ago is facing a possible return to state prison after he allegedly got into a drunken fight with another man in Deer Lodge in October.

Michael Gerald Cuchine, 48, was sentenced to 15 years, with 10 suspended, for killing 47-year-old Steven Guy Maycumber after a May 2008 argument in front of Maycumber's Evergreen home turned violent.

On Aug. 8, Cuchine returned to Flathead County District Court seeking a release from supervision, but District Judge Heidi Ulbricht denied his request.

Then, according to court documents, on Oct. 2, Cuchine was charged with felony DUI and misdemeanor assault in Powell County.

James Cameron, a probation and parole officer with the Montana Department of Corrections, filed a report of violation based on information he received from Deer Lodge Police Sgt. Austin Picton.

Picton said he was called to a hardware store after a man was reported to be picking fights with customers. He found the man, Cuchine, at the window of a Chevy Suburban. He took Cuchine into custody and spoke to the driver of the Suburban, who said Cuchine cut him off while they drove down a street. The victim said Cuchine accused him of sleeping with his girlfriend. He said Cuchine tried to punch him, but missed and knocked his hat off his head.

Picton wrote in a statement that Cuchine threatened him. He also said he could smell alcohol on Cuchine's breath.

Thursday, a hearing was held in Flathead County District Court regarding the incident. Cuchine, who is still locked up in the Powell County Jail, appeared via Zoom.

Cuchine made "general denials" to the allegations against him and Judge Heidi Ulbricht set a Jan. 6, 2022, hearing for a possible revocation of his parole.

Cuchine asked if his bail could be lowered and Ulbricht told him when an attorney from Flathead County was assigned to his case, a petition for bail reduction could be completed.

During the August hearing, the victim's niece, Sharene Ahlin, gave video testimony about her feelings toward Cuchine.

"I am deeply disappointed Mr. Cuchine is seeking to reduce his sentence further," Ahlin said. "My uncle was a good man, an Army veteran, who came home to take care of his elderly mother."

Flathead County Deputy Attorney Andrew Clegg argued at the time that Cuchine should serve the remainder of his sentence.

Maycumber's sister, Marcia Ballowe, wrote a letter opposing Cuchine's release from probation, pointing out Cuchine was jailed after one of multiple drunken driving arrests, and released to house arrest on May 26, 2008.

"His girlfriend drove him home to his trailer, purchased a case of beer that he consumed, then Michael jumped over my mother's fence and strangled my brother Steven," Ballowe wrote. "If Michael Cuchine had any respect for the law or authority, he would have followed the terms of his house arrest ... but instead he murdered my brother. ... Removing the 'conditional' probation will likely give him further opportunity to cause harm to others."

Cuchine, who served only two years in the Montana State Prison for the killing, will be on probation for another two years.

He said after serving two years in prison he was on pre-release before moving to Deer Lodge where his father lived. Cuchine also said he has held a job at Sun Mountain Logging in Deer Lodge. He's been on probation since 2012 and no longer lives in the Flathead Valley.

ACCORDING TO a previous Daily Inter Lake story, the fight began while Cuchine and Maycumber were discussing damage done to Maycumber's fence by a third neighbor's children.

As the argument intensified, Cuchine said he crossed the fence line and Maycumber struck him with a wood-splitting maul.

"He confronted me with that ax ... I didn't want to kill him," Cuchine said at the time. "It just got out of hand."

After trading punches, the pair began grappling and Cuchine applied a choke hold.

"I'm sorry that this happened," said Cuchine, who claimed self-defense.

Then-Flathead County Attorney Ed Corrigan called the beating "merciless" and argued Cuchine had flown into a "blind rage."

"It was a senseless murder," Maycumber's sister, Sharon Walker, said at the time. She asked then-District Judge Stewart Stadler for a harsher sentence. "Our lives are destroyed now because of what happened."

Family members described Maycumber as a "gentle giant." He lived with his 84-year-old mother and helped her around the house.

In exchange for Cuchine's guilty plea to the lesser crime of negligent homicide, prosecutors dismissed a mitigated deliberate homicide charge and agreed to recommend the sentence Cuchine ultimately received.

Reporter Scott Shindledecker may be reached at 406-758-4441 or sshindledecker@dailyinterlake.com.

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