On January 1, 2020, 19 year-old Joshua Paniagua stabbed 18 year-old Benjamin Mousso to death in a casino bathroom during what was termed a ‘drug rip’.

Deputy Missoula County Attorney Mac Bloom described Paniagua’s sentence, handed down on Tuesday in Missoula District Court by Judge Leslie Halligan.

“She sentenced Mr. Paniagua to 10 years active with the Department of Public Health and Human Services, which is primarily focused on mental health treatment, and then followed that up with another five years active Department of Corrections placement, which is focused primarily on substance abuse,” said Bloom. “Then she followed that up with another 10 years on probation. So ultimately, Mr. Paniagua will do 15 years in custody, followed by another 10 years of supervised probation.”

Before the sentencing on November 30, while Paniagua was being held at the Warm Springs State Mental Hospital, Judge Halligan conducted a victim’s impact statement hearing, so that Paniagua could see and hear the pain and suffering that Mousso’s death had caused.

First to testify was Mike Mousso, Benjamin Mousso’s father.

“My son was 18 years old when the defendant killed him,” said Mousso. “Ben struggled with self esteem. I told him many times that I could not wait to see the gifts that God gave him come to fruition in his life. Ben loved our family. He wanted all of us to just be together. He wanted to serve in the military. He wanted a family of his own many times telling me that jokingly, he would be the first of my six children to give me a grandchild.”

Jeannette Smith, a friend of Benjamin Mousso faced Paniagua who was watching and listening via ZOOM from Warm Springs.

“Ben did not die of natural causes,” said Smith. “He didn't have an accident. He was not ill and he did not take his own life. He was murdered. Mr. Panigua’s story is absurd nonsense. Nobody believes it. Mr. Paniagua is not a person who deserves to be allowed out in our society, and I hope he is in prison for a very, very long time. Forever would not be long enough. Mr. Paniagua I hate you. We hate you.”

Another friend, Harley Smith addressed Paniagua, in a letter voiced by Cheryl Patch, Missoula County Crime Victim Advocate.

“No matter what happens during the sentencing, I will never be satisfied with your punishment. You murdered Benjamin Mousso. In my opinion since you took his life, you don't deserve to live. He had so much more potential in life than you ever did, ever will or ever deserve. I just know that karma will come around one day.”

Bloom expressed his feelings about the Paniagua case.

“It was probably the most difficult case I've worked in my eight year career,” he said. “The work that law enforcement put into this and that our office put into this to try to get to the right answer and to get to the right solution was incredible. We put a lot of time into this case, and we wanted to make sure that we got it right because we wanted justice to be done. I know that the families of the deceased feel like that was not the case here and my heart breaks for them. They lost their son and we can never bring him back, and really, my heart goes out to them for that tragedy. We just had to do the best we could to evaluate it objectively and under the laws of the state of Montana.”

 

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