Attorney says Montwheeler should be committed to state hospital, not jail

By Pat Caldwell

The Enterprise

VALE — Anthony Montwheeler needs more than a “drive by” psychiatric evaluation to determine whether he’s mentally fit to stand trial on murder and assault charges, his attorney has asserted in a recent court filing.

Malheur County Senior Circuit Judge Patricia Sullivan on June 20 ordered Montwheeler be “immediately” taken to the Oregon State Hospital for examination. She said she found “there is reason to doubt defendant’s fitness to proceed.”

If Montwheeler is found too mentally ill to stand trial, he would be ordered into treatment until he is. Such treatment is typically done at the state hospital.

Sullivan’s action was prompted in part after learning that Montwheeler, 49, had cut himself while in jail.

Montwheeler is in the Malheur County Jail on charges of aggravated murder, assault and kidnapping. He is accused of kidnapping and killing Annita Harmon, an ex-wife, and killing David Bates and injuring his wife Jessica in a subsequent collision. The crimes happened last January.

David Falls, representing Montwheeler, said in court filings that his client needed more than a “short drive by evaluation.” He said Montwheeler should be “committed to the hospital for a period of observation and then be actually observed and evaluated” by a professional.

As of Monday, Montwheeler was still at the Malheur County Jail and there was no immediate plan to take him to Salem, according to Sheriff Brian Wolfe.

Jonathan Modie of the Oregon Health Authority said that generally the kind of evaluation ordered by the judge takes about three days. He said that would be done by the hospital’s Forensic Evaluation Service, which does not treat patients. Modie was not speaking about the Montwheeler case in particular because of patient confidentiality.

Montwheeler is no stranger to the state hospital. He was sent there in 1997 after he raised an insanity defense to kidnapping charges in Baker City. He was later released for a number of years but returned after serving prison time for yet another crime.

State officials last December freed Montwheeler after concluding he wasn’t mentally ill. Montwheeler maintained he faked his illness to avoid prison.

In his court filing, Falls said that Montwheeler “is being denied any mental health treatment at the Malheur County Jail and it is unconstitutional to keep him housed in that facility where he is cutting himself and receiving no treatment or medication.”

Malheur County District Attorney David Goldthorpe said there is “nothing to substantiate” Fall’s assertions.

Wolfe said recently that Montwheeler was being closely observed by his jail staff.

Have a news tip? Contact reporter Pat Caldwell at [email protected] or (541) 473-3377.