Judge puts Anthony Montwheeler case on hold until September

Anthony Montwheeler leaves Malheur County Circuit Court in a wheelchair May 18. A competency hearing for the former Nampa man was postponed until autumn. (The Enterprise/Pat Caldwell).

VALE – He came into the courtroom in a wheelchair and then accused the lawyers and the judge of being “shysters.”

In the end, Anthony Montwheeler’s long simmering criminal case was delayed yet again Friday in Malheur County Circuit Court.

A hearing to determine whether Montwheeler is mentally fit to stand trial was postponed by Circuit Court Judge Thomas Ryan. Ryan set aside the week of Sept. 17 for the competency hearing.

The hearing is crucial to determining what happens next in the prosecution of Montwheeler.

Montwheeler, 50, faces murder and kidnapping charges in the kidnapping and killing of an ex-wife, Annita Harmon, outside an Ontario gas station and the death of Vale resident, David Bates, in a head-on collision during a police pursuit in January 2017.

The competency hearing will focus on a report from the Oregon State Hospital regarding whether Montwheeler is fit to stand trial. The report, sealed by Ryan, reportedly concludes he is not able to help his attorneys or understand court proceedings.

Ryan will have to determine at the September hearing whether to suspend the criminal case so Montwheeler can undergo treatment at the state hospital.

Montwheeler has yet to enter a plea to the charges.

Montwheeler’s attorney, David Falls of West Linn, requested the delay in the competency hearing. Falls said he hasn’t been able to “work closely” with Montwheeler since March because he was representing a client in another murder trial. Recently Montwheeler sent several letters to the court implying that he wants to dismiss his defense team and Ryan asked him about that Friday.

After a long pause, where Ryan asked if Montwheeler could hear him, the former Nampa resident replied, “We wrote the letters, yes.”

Ryan then asked who was included in “we.”

“Yes, we wrote the letters. We told you what we wanted in the letters,” Montwheeler replied, who appeared in court instead of by video conference as has happened in earlier hearings. Then he launched into a diatribe.

“You are all shysters. All you want is control,” Montwheeler said. “You are not the mind police.”

“They know about the blocking and unblocking and the blocking. We know everything. The lies and the deceit. Yeah, we know,” Montwheeler said.

Ryan said Montwheeler’s comments were “repetitive and rambling” and didn’t provide a basis to dismiss Montwheeler’s counsel.

“You are not specifically asking me to fire your attorneys so I am not going to do it,” said Ryan. Ryan also said Montwheeler had not filed a formal motion to dismiss his attorneys.

Falls also brought up access to Montwheeler by his defense team at the Malheur County Jail.

Malheur County Jail Commander Rachel Reyna was sworn in and testified that she believed the defense team had “adequate” access to Montwheeler.

Montwheeler’s defense team also asserted their client does not have access to documents in his case. Reyna said Montwheeler can access documents in the jail’s library. Because of the amount of material, said Reyna, placing it in his cell for easy access was not possible because of safety and security.

“Allowing that much paperwork causes problems. Inmates want to get to it,” said Reyna.

A compromise was reached, allowing Montwheeler to take one folder of documents at a time to his cell. During the hearing, Falls also asked if it was possible for him to gain easier access to Montwheeler. Falls asked if the Malheur County Sheriff’s Office would allow Montwheeler to be moved to the jail in Portland.

“Because of where he is, he has gotten the short end of the stick,” said Falls.

Ryan didn’t buy it.

“Mr. Monthwheeler has an entire defense team representing him,” responded Ryan.

Ryan told Falls he could make a request to the sheriffs of Malheur and Multnomah counties about moving Montwheeler back and forth to the Portland area. David Goldthorpe, Malheur County district attorney, told the judge he didn’t think Falls’ plan was “even remotely possible. I have never heard of it.”

Reporter Pat Caldwell: [email protected] or 541-473-3377.