Montwheeler plea hearing delayed to June

By Pat Caldwell
The Enterprise
VALE – Anthony W. Montwheeler, freed from state control in December after admitting faking mental illness, on Monday formally declared his intention to defend himself against murder charges by relying on an insanity defense.
His attorney, David Falls of West Linn, notified prosecutors through a filing Monday in Malheur County Circuit Court. Falls said Montwheeler also might assert diminished responsibility.
The developments came after what was supposed to be the day Montwheeler entered his plea to charges of aggravated murder, assault and kidnapping.
He is accused of kidnapping and stabbing to death an ex-wife, Annita Harmon, and killing David Bates of Vale and injuring his wife Jessica in a collision during a police pursuit on Jan. 9.
Montwheeler’s plea had been delayed once to allow him time to recover from his own injuries.
He was rolled into court Monday in a wheelchair, his head down on his chest.
For the next 40 minutes, he never looked up.
And he didn’t enter a plea. That proceeding was set over until June 20.
Instead, Falls said he would seek a change of venue, ask that Malheur County’s two circuit judges be taken off Montwheeler’s case and that the state Justice Department be barred from participating.
Malheur County Circuit Judge Erin Landis took no action on Falls’ statements.
Falls supplemented his courtroom with new filings outlining his objections. He said Montwheeler couldn’t be fairly tried in Malheur County “because of the excessive and inaccurate pretrial publicity.”
He said Landis and Circuit Judge Lung Hung would be disqualified from the case if they were involved in prosecuting Montwheeler in 2005 for reckless burning. He said Landis also had approved search warrants used by police to gather evidence.
Falls also said the Justice Department shouldn’t be involved in prosecuting Montwheeler. State prosecutors often participate in major criminal cases in rural counties.
The filing noted the Justice Department had issued a public records order to disclose some of Montwheeler’s medical records to the Malheur Enterprise and advised the state Psychiatric Security Review Board, which had jurisdiction over Montwheeler.
Falls wrote that it would be “unethical” for state attorneys to prosecute Montwheeler. “The Oregon attorney general’s office has already worn too many hats in this case,” Falls wrote.
Malheur County District Attorney David Goldthorpe said the Justice Department hasn’t assigned a prosecutor to the case.
“I counsel with them just to know about certain motions,” Goldthrope said.
In his court filing, Falls said Montwheeler intended to rely on the insanity defense “such that he lacked substantial capacity either to appreciate the criminality of the conduct or to conform his conduct to the requirements of the law.”
Falls said Montwheeler’s “mental health/medical condition is still being evaluated.”
In 1997, Montwheeler successfully raised the insanity defense in the face of charges he kidnapped his second wife and their son in Baker City. He testified last December he feigned mental illness so he could be sent to the state hospital instead of prison.