DULUTH – A 45-year-old rural St. Louis County resident has pleaded guilty to first-degree manslaughter in the shooting death of his friend in November 2019.

Thomas A. Micklewright accepted a plea deal at a hearing Tuesday morning that saw his charge reduced from second-degree murder and could bring a sentence of 86 months in prison.

Micklewright got into an argument with James Arthur Couture while the two and their wives were drinking into the early hours of Nov. 9 at Micklewright's home outside of Cloquet on the Fond du Lac Reservation, authorities said. At Tuesday's hearing Micklewright said Couture "threatened me, threatened my wife … then I shot him."

Micklewright's wife called 911 about 5 a.m. after the shooting and he "admitted during the call that he intentionally shot the victim with a .40 caliber pistol" but wouldn't say why, charges state.

Couture, 65, was dead when police arrived at the scene, court documents said. Couture, who went by Jim, was a member of the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa and is survived by his wife, six children and several grandchildren and great-grandchildren, according to his obituary.

Micklewright's attorneys planned to claim self-defense before reaching the plea deal with prosecutors. They had to take a break from the hearing Tuesday after Micklewright seemed uncertain about waiving his right to claim self-defense as part of the plea.

Defense attorney David Keegan told Micklewright "the state has an entirely different set of facts than your recollection," which "may be flawed" due to intoxication.

Micklewright had a blood alcohol concentration of 0.20 more than six hours after his arrest, according to charges, which is more than twice the legal limit to drive.

His sentencing is scheduled for May 24 at 11:30 a.m.

Brooks Johnson • 218-491-6496