The Malheur Enterprise and ProPublica, a nonprofit investigative newsroom, will host a free community forum Thursday to discuss Oregon’s criminal insanity system, which decided to free Anthony Montwheeler just before he was accused of killing a Weiser woman and a Vale man.
The newsrooms teamed up this year to investigate what happened to hundreds of people freed by the Oregon Psychiatric Security Review Board in the last decade — the first public accounting of those outcomes.
In its recently published report, the Enterprise found that about one-third of those discharged from the state committed crimes within three years. State leaders are now calling for changes to better protect the public.
Stephen Engelberg, ProPublica editor-in-chief, will lead the discussion on Thursday at Four Rivers Cultural Center in Ontario. Doors open at 6 p.m. for refreshments and the event will start at 6:30 p.m. Before launching ProPublica as founding managing editor in 2008, Engelberg had led the investigative team at The Oregonian in Portland. Work he oversaw there won the Pulitzer for breaking news and he was honored as a finalist for leading reports on methamphetamines and charities to help the disabled.
He will be joined by Jayme Fraser, the Enterprise reporter who joined the staff as part of ProPublica’s Local Reporting Network, and Les Zaitz, Enterprise editor and publisher.
They will share with the community how the state decides someone is safe to be freed from supervision, why some people are released despite warnings they might be dangerous, and the challenges of balancing public safety with civil rights.
The panel also will take questions from the audience about Oregon’s “guilty except for insanity” plea. If you cannot make the event in person or would like to submit your question in advance, email [email protected].
The Enterprise investigated Montwheeler’s release after he was accused in January 2017 of stabbing to death an ex-wife, Annita Harmon, and killing David Bates and injuring his wife Jessica. The newspaper found that Montwheeler had been in state custody after he was found criminally insane in 1997 but was released in late 2016 after he asserted he had been faking his mental illness.
Montwheeler was recently ordered back to the Oregon State Hospital for treatment to be fit for his criminal trial, now slated for late 2019.