Attorneys for Anthony Montwheeler want to move his trial out of Malheur County because of ‘inflammatory’ media coverage. (The Enterprise/File).
VALE – Anthony Montwheeler is headed back to the Oregon State Hospital again, this time for an evaluation of his mental condition at the time of the January 2017 crimes for which he faces the potential death penalty.
Meantime, Montwheeler’s attorneys are asking a state judge to move Montwheeler’s trial out of Malheur County and to find Oregon’s death penalty unconstitutional. Montwheeler “is planning an insanity defense” against the charges, according to a court filing by his defense attorneys last week. He is charged with kidnapping and stabbing to death Annita Harmon, an ex-wife, on Jan. 9, 2017, and then killing David Bates of Vale and injuring his wife Jessica in a collision during a police pursuit. His attorneys filed a string of motions last week, including asking the judge to postpone a trial now scheduled for September in Malheur County Circuit Court.
The judge, Multnomah County Circuit Judge Thomas Ryan, last Thursday ordered Montwheeler be taken to the state hospital for another examination.
The judge’s order said he should be evaluated to determine whether he had a qualifying mental disorder that kept him from understanding the criminality of any conduct or that he could comply with the law.
The order also said the examination should determine whether Montwheeler had a mental disorder that resulted in him having no intention to commit a crime. Montwheeler has been sent to the state hospital twice before since his arrest more than two years ago. After the first stay, state experts determined he wasn’t mentally fit to stand trial. They concluded after a later examination that Montwheeler was in condition to face the criminal charges. His attorneys said in a filing last week that his trips to the state hospital are one reason they need more time to investigate his case and prepare for trial.
In addition to seeking a later trial date, the attorneys also want the trial moved to another county because Montwheeler “cannot obtain a fair and impartial trial” in Malheur County.
The request was based on detailed claims about news coverage of Montwheeler’s case.
“The local press coverage of Mr. Montwheeler has been persistent, prosecutorial biased, extremely inflammatory, and characterized by deep and bitter prejudice,” according to the motion for a change of venue filed April 8. The motion focused its attention on local reporting of the case, saying the Malheur Enterprise has published 73 articles and the Argus Observer of Ontario has published 27. In addition, the filing said, “the publisher of the Malheur Enterprise has written a number of prejudicial editorials calling for accountability and justice. The Enterprise has a pattern of requesting court documents and reporting on just about every motion filed by the defense.”
The attorneys filed a 17-page report by Bryan Edelman, who describes himself as a trial consultant working for a “full-service jury research firm.”
Edelman said news coverage “contains some of the most sensational, prejudicial and vitriolic coverage I have seen in the 40-plus high-profile cases I have worked on.”
He recounted the Enterprise’s coverage of Montwheeler’s time under the jurisdiction of the state Psychiatric Security Review Board and his release in late 2016 after he claimed he had been faking his mental illness following an earlier criminal case.
“Prospective jurors exposed to this pretrial publicity are likely to conclude that he is faking mental illness once again to avoid being held accountable,” Edelman wrote. He disclosed in his report that the reporting on his time under state jurisdiction “directly undermines Montwheeler’s insanity defense.”
Document: Defense motion for change of venue
Edleman’s report and the motion itself make no claim any of the reporting was inaccurate.
Edelman also concluded his report by noting that the crime happened more than two years ago.
“It is possible that the influence of pretrial publicity on the jury pool has faded with the passage of time,” he wrote.
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