Victims: Dr. David McKay, 71, Constance McKay, 70, and Dr. Marian McKay Qamar, 40
Age at time of murder: 17 and nine months
Crime date: October 15, 1985
Crime location: Near Great Falls
Crimes: Burglary, home invasion, & armed robbery
Weapon: .44 magnum Ruger Redhawk revolver
Murder method: Gunshots
Sentence: Life without parole (LWOP)
Incarceration status: Montana State Prison
Keefe murdered Dr. David McKay, his wife Constance McKay, and his daughter Dr. Marian McKay Qamar during a home-invasion. Dr. Marian’s three-year-old daughter was inside the house when her mother and grandparents were murdered. Keefe had an extensive criminal history prior to the triple homicide. When he committed the murders, he was three months away from turning 18.
Joseph McXay, the son of David and Constance McKay, arrived at his parents’ home for a family dinner at about 5:15 p.m. October 15, 1985. His sister, Marian Qamar, and her 3-year-old daughter, Monya, had flown in for a visit earlier that day. Another sister, Octavia McKay Joyner, had greeted the Qamars and had left them at the McKay home at about 2:30 p.m. Joseph McKay entered through an unlocked ground-level door, which opens into the family room. He noticed that a pot of potatoes was burning on the stove in the kitchenette at the rear of the room. He testified that he removed the pot from the stove’s burner, and then turned to a hallway, which led to the laundry room on the left, to the garage and a root cellar at the end, and to a staircase to the main floor on the right.
As he entered this hallway, Joseph McKay testified that he found his mother lying on the floor in a pool of blood and realized that she was dead. When he stood up to alert the rest of the family he saw Marian Qamar also lying in the hall and apparently dead. He returned to the family room to call authorities just as his sister, Octavia, and her husband, Don Joyner, drove up to the house. He urged them to keep their children outside and allowed Don Joyner, who is a practicinq physician, into the house. Dr. Joyner checked for a pulse on Marian Qamar. He could find none and determined that both women were dead. Sheriff’s dispatchers who received Joseph McKay’s call told him to exit the house and dispatched deputies immediately. Joseph McKay and Dr. Joyner left the house without climbing the stairs to the main floor.
Sheriff’s deputies arrived within minutes and were told of the two bodies on the lower floor and that Dr. McKay and Monya Qamar were unaccounted for. The deputies entered the house through the ground-level door Joseph McKay had used, stepped past the bodies of the two women and came to the base of the stairs leading to the upper floor. Here they noticed six empty shell casings lying on the rug. They stepped over these casings and climbed six steps to a landing that faces the main door to the house and another six steps from this landing to the main floor. As the deputies proceeded through the dining area they noticed Dr. McKay lying dead in the adjacent kitchen. The deputies then checked the bedroom and found Monya Qamar sleeping in one of the beds. One of the deputies picked the girl up and carried her down one flight of stairs to the main door and attempted to open the main door but had to move a heavy rug that had been pushed up against the bottom of the door.
Deputy Jim Bruckner, one of the first sheriff’s deputies on the scene, bras qualified at trial as a police expert on crime reconstruction. He testified that the investigation indicates that Dr. McKay, who was shot once in the back of the head from the left, was the first victim shot. There were wine glasses laid out on a counter in front of the body and a wine glass lay broken in his hand. This, he said, shows Dr. McKay was unaware of any danger when he was shot. Investigators theorize that Dr. Qamar came to investigate the noise in the kitchen, saw the killer, turned, and was shot at five times as she fled down the two flights of stairs. She may have tried to open the main door, hut was prevented from doing so because the rug stopped the door. As she got to the hallway at the gound-level she was struck by a bullet in the back and also by one that tore through her right ankle, and fell either dead or dying in the hallway. Three bullets were located in the walls adjacent to the staircase. The gunman emptied the chamber of the weapon used to kill the victims at the base of the stairs and reloaded. Constance McKay then entered the home from the concrete root cellar adjacent to the garage to find her daughter lying on the hall floor. As she knelt to attend to her daughter, the gunman stepped out and fired a shot into the left side of Mrs. McKay who reeled and fell twenty feet away. Another shot was fired at Constance McKay but missed her and lodged in a baseboard heater. In total, eight .44 magnum rounds were fired in the McKay house.
Upon completion of autopsies, the Cascade County deputy coroner set the time of death as approximately 4:30 p.m. While preliminary investigations revealed no other crime had occurred in the house, deputies later found a pile of coins on a dirt road near the house and family members subsequently determined the purse belonging to Constance McKay was missing from the McKay home. The purse never has been found.
Keefe was seventeen years old at the time of the homicides. At the time, Lewis and Clark County law officers suspected his involvement in four recent burglaries, at one of which a .44 magnum Ruger Redhawk revolver was stolen. Keefe travelled to Great Falls on October 10, ostensibly to seek employment at a new Buttrey’s supermarket; he stayed the weekend with several acquaintances and showed the .44 revolver to his roommates and several of their friends.
The day after the McKay homicides, Keefe requested that a roommate who was of legal age, Michael Hayashi, assist him in pawning a portable radio/stereo stolen from one of the recent Helena burglaries and later the .44 magnum Ruger Redhawk. Keefe had Hayashi pawn the .44 magnum Ruger Redhawk revolver, the weapon used to kill the victims, for $75 because he said he needed the money for a trip to Helena, even though a second roomate, Toby Scott Yadon, a day or two before the victims were killed, offered him $250 for that same .44 magnum Ruger Redhawk revolver. Keefe had refused this offer because he had said he wanted more money for the revolver. The items, thus, were placed in hock on October 16, 1985 at a Great Falls pawnshop. Later that same day, Keefe was detained by the Great Falls police on a Lewis and Clark County court order and held for Helena authorities who transferred him back to Pine Hills School for Boys because of his recent burglaries.
It was during this confinement at Pine Hills that Keefe told of the McKay homicides to other residents. One resident testified that he and Keefe had been discussing burglaries when Keefe admitted that he also had killed people. This witness testified that Keefe said he had left a party and gone to a lady’s house and that when the lady had come out of the kitchen he shot her and that when two people came down stairs to investigate he shot them also. The witness testified that Keefe said the lady was named Constance; the witness also testified he had not heard of the McKay homicides before his discussion with Keefe.
A second resident testified that in mid-November, 1985, he and Keefe were alone in a music room when Keefe related that he had shot and killed three people while burglarizing a home near Great Falls. The witness testified that Keefe said he had broken in through sliding glass doors and killed Dr. McKay when he came to investigate and then shot the two women when they came down to investigate. This witness testified that he did not reveal this conversation until after Keefe’s arrest.
When trial commenced in Cascade County District Court on October 16, 1986, the State began its case-in-chief by calling twenty-six witnesses who testified as to five burglaries or attempted burglaries attributed to Keefe. Defense objected to this practice claiming that it was inherently prejudicial since it presumed that these crimes were sufficiently similar to the McKay crime to be introduced under Rule 404(b), M.R.Evid. To cure any potential defect the State filed a sealed affidavit with the court one week before trial setting out what this evidence would prove. The actual testimony of these witnesses demonstrated that:
*On July 22, 1985, between the hours of midnight and 8 a.m., somebody entered the Helena valley home of Arlene Wall while she slept and removed her purse and camera. No harm was done to anyone. Mrs. Wall’s keys and credit cards were surrendered to the Lewis and Clark County authorities by Keefe’s mother, Mrs. Vera Parmer.
*On August 3, 1985, Patrick Wall, the son and neighbor of Arlene Wall, returned to his home at 2 a.m. to find an unknown pickup truck near his home and his home’s front door broken open. He found that a camera and .22 caliber pistol had been stolen. No harm was done to anyone. The pickup was later found to be registered to Keefe’s mother and the .22 caliber pistol o7as later found in Keefe’s possession.
*On October 2, 1985, between the hours of 6:45 p.m. and 10 p.m., the basement window to Ron Garvin’s Helena-area home was broken and a .44 magnum Ruger Redhawk revolver, four boxes of ammunition, and a portable radio/stereo were stolen. Keefe’s fingerprints were found on the glass of the broken window. No harm was done to anyone although a neighbor testified he heard gunshots in a field nearby at about this time. The F.B.I. specialist testified that this gun, which Keefe admitted he showed-off in Great Falls, matched the ballistics of two of the fatal shots, and also could have fired the third.
*On October 10, 1985, a daylight burglary occurred at the residence of Ray Bell, Mrs. Parmer’s employer. Nobody was injured in this crime since the house was unoccupied but a portable radio/stereo, a camera, and a .38 caliber pistol were stolen. Mrs. Parmer testified that she saw the camera in Keefe’s belongings as he packed for his trip to Great Falls and she returned it to Bell. The radio/stereo was pawned for Keefe by his friend Michael Hayashi, the same day as Garvin’s .44 magnum Ruger Redhawk was pawned.
*At about 9:30 p.m. on October 12, 1985, Dr. Paul Wilhelm heard somebody ring the doorbell at his home north of Great Falls. He was suspicious because he was expecting no company; he checked from windows but could see nobody at the door. Dr. Wilhelm then carefully shined a light on a vacant hill and fired two shots. He heard a person run away. Dr. Wilhelm’s home was not entered and nobody was harmed. The next day he found footprints near his home which were later photographed. F.B.I. specialists later matched these photographed footprints to a pair of Keefe’s shoes.
April 18, 2019
Steven Wayne Keefe was 88 days shy of his 18th birthday when he murdered three people in 1985 in Great Falls.
In 1986, he was convicted and sentenced to a life sentence for each count of deliberate homicide and 10 years for a count of burglary. He was sentenced to additional 10 years per count since the crime was committed with a dangerous weapon.
Keefe’s sentence did not include the possibility of parole.
On Thursday, Keefe was back in court as Judge Greg Pinski of the state district court in Great Falls held a new sentencing hearing in light of U.S. and Montana supreme court rulings in recent years.
Pinski said he granted the request for a new sentencing hearing based on Supreme Court decisions in Roper v. Simmons, 2005, in which the court ruled it was unconstitutional to impose capital punishment for crimes committed while under the age of 18; Graham v. Florida, 2010, which held that juvenile offenders cannot be sentenced to life imprisonment without parole for non-homicide cases; Miller v. Alabama, 2012, which ruled that mandatory sentences for life without parole for juvenile offenders, even in the case of murder, was cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution; Montgomery v. Louisiana, 2016, ruled that its previous ruling in Miller should apply retroactively, which potentially affected about 2,300 cases nationwide.
In Montana, that has affected two cases: Keefe and Derrick Steilman, who was convicted of deliberate homicide and sentences to a 110-year sentence without parole for a 1997 murder in Butte and a concurrent 26-year sentence for a 1998 Washington state murder.
In 2017, the Montana Supreme Court ruled that the Supreme Court’s Miller decision also applied to cases in which judges had used their discretion to hand down the same decision. But the court denied Steilman’s petition for resentencing on the grounds of his sentence being a life sentence since it included the possibility of earning day-for-day time off the sentence for good behavior, according to the Billings Gazette.
On Thursday, Keefe’s attorneys argued that he was a changed man who had been rehabilitated and should have the opportunity for parole.
The state argued that Keefe was changing his story to suit the current case law in an attempt to get out of jail and that he still did not take responsibility for his actions or show remorse.
Keefe was convicted of murdering Dr. David McKay, an opthamologist; his wife, Constance; and their daughter Dr. Marian McKay Qamar, 40, a Seattle pediatrician; in the McKay home three miles south of Great Falls, according to court documents.
The conviction was upheld on appeal.
On Thursday, Keefe’s attorneys used testimony from those who knew him in prison and letters from others, to say that he’d been a model prisoner and hadn’t had a disciplinary problem in years. They argued that research into brain development in teens should be a factor in sentencing, as should Keefe’s difficult childhood of abusive and an alcoholic mother and step-father.
The state argued that by the time Keefe was tried for the triple homicide, he had 47 juvenile convictions and that nothing in his upbringing mitigated the seriousness of the crime.
During the murders in 1985, Marian McKay Qamar’s 3-year-old daughter Muna was sleeping in another area of the house.
She was unharmed that day and on Thursday, she offered the victim impact statement on behalf of the family.
“I was sleeping along, helpless, while my family was murdered nearby,” she said. “My whole world was shattered.”
The deaths were so traumatizing to the family, she said, that it became something they didn’t talk about. It wasn’t their fault, she said, but she didn’t get the support she needed to cope with the loss and has suffered as a result.
“I missed out on knowing my mother through their memories,” Muna said. “The most important person in my 3-year-old life was ripped away from me.”
She also lost her father in a 2005 car crash and said he didn’t talk much about her mother. But about a year and a half ago, she found a baby book of hers with a note from her father inside.
The note dated Oct. 31, 1985 read “I cry every day and I pray that I can give you enough love,” Muna read. “I’m sad that you couldn’t know her.”
She said she had found peace and happiness until she heard about the hearing.
During the hearing, Keefe said he wanted to express his deepest sympathy and said there was nothing he could do “to bring these people back.” Keefe said he made a lot of mistakes when he was younger.
“I ask for your forgiveness,” Keefe said. “You don’t have to give that to me, but I beg you for forgiveness.”
Chad Parker, a prosecutor with the Montana Attorney General’s Office, said that the state recommended that the court sentence Keefe to life in prison without the eligibility of parole. The state pointed out that since being in prison, Keefe has added tattoos to his body including one that reads “guilty until proven innocent” and one with three skulls that the state argued represented the McKay family.
John Mills, an attorney with the Phillips Black Project, argued for Keefe that his childhood experience of homelessness; abuse from his mother and step-father, a teacher and his mother’s boyfriend; and alcoholism in his mother in step-father; as well as his teenage brain development were mitigating factors for sentencing, as well as his good behavior in prison in recent years.
The law required the hearing, Pinski said, but to the family, “I understand this is traumatizing. For that, I’m sorry.”
Pinksi said the facts were established in the 1986 trial and upheld on appeal in the triple homicide that to this day, “shocks the Great Falls community.”
In sentencing, Pinski said the court must consider Keefe’s age, family situation and the circumstances of the crime.
Pinski said that though he was 17, Keefe was nearing his 18th birthday and was “mature beyond his age,” since he had a job, lived independently and had a lengthy criminal history.
“Crime was a way of life,” Pinski said, and that Keefe knew the consequences and disregarded them.
Pinski said that in considering Keefe’s childhood, there was no evidence of a life changing trauma that would mitigate the crime.
In considering his mental health, Pinski said at the time, Keefe was a social deviant but recognizes that his mental health has stabilized.
Pinski said the facts of the case indicate that Keefe killed three people “mercilessly and without hesitation or remorse. He killed, he killed and he killed.”
Pinski said the law didn’t grant a juvenile a look back review of their case at some undetermined point in the future and that the Supreme Court’s Montgomery decision reference rehabilitation as a consideration at a parole hearing, not at a resentencing hearing.
“The court is unmoved,” Pinski said. “I am not convinced he has accepted responsibility for the crime.”
Pinksi said Keefe’s tattoos of the three skulls, grim reaper and “guilty until proven innocent,” were “shocking.”
He said there could be any reason for those, but case law allows for the court to use tattoos as an element of character for sentencing.
“I interpret those tattoos as bravado” of the crime.
Pinski said Keefe was the only offender in the Montana State Prison serving a life sentence without parole for a crime committed as a juvenile.
He said that when the case law said juveniles could not be sentence to life without parole, except in extreme cases, “it was talking about this case.”
Pinski sentenced Keefe to life sentences without the eligibility of parole; 10 years for a count of burglary; and because the crime was committed with a dangerous weapon, he added 10 years to each count. Each sentence was consecutive.
September 11, 2020
Attorneys presented oral arguments Friday in the state Supreme Court case of a man convicted of a triple homicide in 1985.
Steven Wayne Keefe, 52, is appealing the April 2019 sentence upheld by Cascade County District Judge Greg Pinski. Keefe’s current sentence is three consecutive life sentences plus 50 additional years without the possibility of parole.
The ACLU of Montana is asking the court to resentence Keefe to a life sentence that includes parole consideration
Keefe was just shy of his 18th birthday when he killed Dr. David McKay, 71, his wife Constance McKay, 70, and their daughter, Dr. Marian McKay Qamar, 40, during a burglary on Oct. 15, 1985.
David McKay, an eye surgeon and ophthalmologist in Great Falls, and his wife were at the family home south of Great Falls with their daughter, Marian Qamar, who was visiting from Seattle.
Marian’s 3-year-old daughter was also in the home when the crime occurred, but she was found unharmed.
The ACLU took up Keefe’s case based on Supreme Court cases between 2012 and 2016 that prohibit mandatory life without parole sentencing of juveniles, requiring judges to provide a fair and individualized sentence and reserve life without parole for rare cases where the defendant shows no possibility of rehabilitation.
The ACLU argued that Keefe’s youth and potential for rehabilitation were not taken into account and the court did not find him irreparably corrupted before handing down its sentence.
At Friday’s hearing, Montana State Bar attorney Roy Lindsay Brown Jr. argued that Keefe’s first 22 years in prison saw him violate multiple prison rules, including possession of a shank, attempted escape, theft, drinking and making alcohol.
“When Keefe turned 40 years old, did he suddenly try to mature,” Brown said, but continued by saying that this reform was based on advice from his attorney and was not out of any desire on his part to improve.
Brown argued that while Keefe is able to function in a highly controlled prison environment, it does not guarantee that he will not be a danger if released.
Brown pointed out that as a juvenile, Keefe committed a string of crimes of escalating severity prior to the homicide, and his attempts at reform at that time were unsuccessful.
Keefe needs to prove more than his claim that his crime represented a transient immaturity in order to be ineligible for a life sentence, Brown said.
Keefe received a fundamentally fair hearing before Pinski and was found to be irreparably corrupt beyond a reasonable doubt, Brown said before asking the court to uphold Pinski’s decision.
For the defense, attorney John Robert Mills argued that Pinski did not give enough weight to the evidence presented at his resentencing hearing.
He said Pinski handicapped him from developing his case, turning “a blind eye” and denying him expert services as well as adequate time to present witnesses.
Mills added that life sentences for juvenile offenders should be extremely rare.
Keefe is currently the only juvenile homicide offender serving a life sentence in Montana, and Mills said, “Three decades of behavior demonstrates that he is not the same impetuous person he was at the age of 18.”
According to a news release, the ACLU is asking for the possibility of parole based on evidence that children’s [sic]* brains are not developed enough to appreciate the consequences of their actions, and they have a unique capacity for reform and rehabilitation.
The release states that Keefe has reformed his behavior even without the expectation of release. He has received high ratings from supervisors for his work in the prison boot factory, on the ground, in the library and as a school tutor.
Keefe has also participated in the guide dog training program, and the release cites his dedication to religion and says a former corrections officer who’s known Keefe for decades would welcome him “as a neighbor, interacting with his children, should he ever be released.”
“Mr. Keefe’s transformation is proof that children can and do change and that Montana should take life without parole off the table for juveniles,” said the release. “Resentencing would not mean that Mr. Keefe would be released, but that he could go in front of a parole board and argue why he believes he is ready to return to society after nearly 35 years.”
Friday’s hearing ended with justices stating they would take the arguments under advisement and would “issue an opinion in due course.”
*Keefe was not a “child” at the time of the triple murder. See Teen Killers Are Not “Children”
Read about Keefe’s victims here: