Oregon judge finds Idaho man unfit to stand trial in murders

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VALE, Ore. (AP) — A judge in Oregon has halted a double murder trial for a man charged with kidnapping and killing his ex-wife after ruling that the defendant is mentally unfit to stand trial.

Malheur County Circuit Judge Tom Ryan made the determination Tuesday and ordered Anthony Montwheeler, of Nampa, Idaho, transferred to the Oregon State Hospital for treatment, The (Ontario) Argus Observer reported .

It's the latest in a string of hospitalizations for mental health for Montwheeler, 49, who was found guilty except for insanity in 1996 of kidnapping his first wife and son.

Montwheeler spent most of the next two decades in mental health treatment instead of in prison, but was released in 2016 after telling a review board he faked mental illness in the 1990s because going to the state hospital and, later, outpatient treatment was better than the prison term he would have otherwise received.

Prosecutors say three weeks after his release, in January 2017, he kidnapped and killed his ex-wife Anita Harmon and then crashed his car during a police pursuit, killing 38-year-old David Bates. Montwheeler has pleaded not guilty to aggravated murder, murder, kidnapping and assault in the current case.

He could face the death penalty if the trial eventually proceeds and he is convicted. A hearing to review his mental health status is set for Jan. 2.

The latest incident unfolded in Weiser, Idaho, where Harmon's car was found abandoned in the middle of the road. Later, across the state line in Ontario, Oregon, a convenience store clerk reported that a woman in a pickup had been kidnapped and was being stabbed.

During the ensuing police chase, Montwheeler's Dodge pickup crossed a centerline and collided with a SUV, killing Bates.

Bates' wife has sued the state over her husband's death, alleging Montwheeler should not have been free.

A month earlier, Montwheeler told the review board he faked mental illness in the 1990s because going to the state hospital and, later, outpatient treatment was better than the prison term he would have otherwise received.

"And all I got to do is make myself sound like I'm crazy. And that's the route I took," Montwheeler testified, according to the Malheur Enterprise, which obtained a recording of the December 2016 hearing and engaged in a long legal battle with the Oregon Psychiatric Security Review Board over release of Montwheeler's records.

Montwheeler's attorney, David Falls, has asked the judge to keep reports on Montwheeler's mental health evaluations confidential.
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Information from: Argus Observer, http://www.argusobserver.com



 
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