Judge declares Montwheeler fit, schedules plea on murder, other charges

Anthony Montwheeler sits in a Vale courtroom on Friday, Jan. 4, as Multnomah County Circuit Judge Thomas Ryan conducts proceedings through a video link. (Les Zaiz/The Enterprise)

VALE – Anthony Montwheeler, in custody for two years and in and out of the state’s mental hospital, is now scheduled to answer the charges against him of aggravated murder, first-degree assault and first-degree kidnapping.

He is to appear in Malheur County Circuit Court on Feb. 22 to tell a judge how he pleads to charges stemming from a Jan. 9, 2017, episode in which two people died and a third was injured. He faces the death penalty if convicted.

The plea was set after Multnomah County Circuit Judge Thomas Ryan, handling Montwheeler’s criminal case, concluded Friday that the defendant was mentally fit for trial.

“I do find the defendant able to aid and assist” in his own defense, said Ryan.

The basis for that finding, a new evaluation by the Oregon State Hospital, is off limits to the public. The Malheur Enterprise requested the 35-page report, but Ryan ordered it not be disclosed. Montwheeler’s attorneys asked the judge seal the report and prohibit its public release.

“We’re not objecting to the conclusion,” said Nicolas Ortiz, one of Montwheeler’s three public defenders. He said Montwheeler wanted to reserve the right to contest how doctors reached that conclusion.

Montwheeler was brought to court in a wheelchair, dressed in standard black-and-white striped jail garb. He kept his head bowed during the hearing, never addressing the judge. At the end, Ortiz asked the judge to remind jail staff of his order that Montwheeler appear in court in street clothes.

A Malheur County grand jury indicted Montwheeler on Jan. 12, 2017, accusing him of kidnapping and killing an ex-wife, Annita Harmon of Weiser, and killing David Bates when the ensuing police pursuit ended in a highway crash. Bates’ wife, Jessica, also was injured, leading to the assault charge.

Here is the timeline of related events:

Sept. 23, 1997 – Montwheeler is found guilty except for insanity for kidnapping his then wife and son in Baker City. Instead of prison, he is put under the jurisdiction of the state Psychiatric Security Review Board for 70 years.

Dec. 7, 2016 – The Security Review Board discharges Montwheeler from state jurisdiction after he claims he had been faking his mental illness and a state hospital psychiatrist concludes there is no evidence Montwheeler is mentally ill. A week later, Montwheeler is discharged from the state hospital and moves outside Nampa.

Jan. 9, 2017 – Annita Harmon is kidnapped from her car as she leaves her parents’ home for work, driven to Ontario and stabbed to death. David Bates, father of five, dies when a pickup truck slams head on into his SUV outside Ontario. His wife Jessica, a passenger, is injured.

April 28, 2017 – Malheur County District Attorney Dave Goldthorpe asks that Montwheeler be evaluated for fitness to face trial after his attorneys raise the prospect of an insanity defense.

June 20, 2017 – A judge orders Montwheeler to the state hospital for evaluation after she said there are doubts he can help in his own defense.

Sept. 1, 2017 – Montwheeler is taken to the state hospital for an evaluation.

Jan. 11, 2018 – The state hospital reports to the court that Montwheeler isn’t fit for trial because he is depressed over his circumstances. The report said three to six months of hospital treatment would restore him.

Sept. 18, 2018 – A judge finds Montwheeler isn’t fit to aid his defense and orders him to the state hospital for treatment.

Dec. 19, 2018 – The state hospital reports to the court that Montwheeler is fit for trial.

Jan. 4, 2019 – A judge declares Montwheeler is fit for trial and can now enter a plea.

Feb. 22, 2019 – Montwheeler is scheduled to enter his plea.