Montwheeler now judged fit for trial, DA moves to get murder case moving

A state psychiatrist has concluded that Anthony Montwheeler is now well enough to stand trial for murder and assault in Malheur County, according to new court filings.

He is expected to be returned to the Malheur County Jail from the Oregon State Hospital, where a judge sent him in September for treatment.

Barring new legal challenges, the next step in the long-running criminal case is to schedule a time for Montwheeler to finally plead to the crimes he’s been charged with, according to Dave Goldthorpe, Malheur County district attorney.

Montwheeler is accused of aggravated murder, kidnapping and assault and faces the death penalty. He is accused of kidnapping an ex-wife, Annita Harmon of Weiser, stabbing her to death outside an Ontario convenience and then deliberately driving into an oncoming SUV, killing David Bates and injuring his wife Jessica.

The Jan. 9, 2017, crimes came less than a month after Montwheeler was discharged by the Oregon Psychiatraic Security Review Board, which concluded it no longer had a basis to hold him. That decision came after Montwheeler testified that he had been faking mental illness since 1997 after he was accused of kidnapping his first wife and son.

While awaiting trial in Vale, Montwheeler was returned to the state hospital for an assessment of whether he was mentally fit to stand trial, requiring he understand the legal issues before him.

Dr. Octavio Choi, a psychiatrist and director of Forensic Evaluation Services at the Oregon State Hospital, subsequently diagnosed Montwheeler with adjustment disorder that “significantly impaired” his ability to make rational decisions about his defense, according to his evaluation report.. Choi told a judge last September that Montwheeler’s condition is more commonly known as mild to moderate depression.

Circuit Judge Thomas Ryan, appointed from Multnomah County Circuit Court to handle the Vale case, ruled after a hearing that Montwheeler wasn’t fit to proceed to trial and that he was a “potential danger to self and, based on the charges and his history, others in the community.”

He ordered Montwheeler back to the state hospital for treatment.

Last week, the state psychiatrist reported to Ryan that Montwheeler was now fit for trial. His report is confidential but is likely to be discussed during a court hearing scheduled for Friday, Jan. 4. Ryan has scheduled Montwheeler’s trial for next fall.