Attorneys say Montwheeler was insane at the time of crimes, so death penalty can’t apply

Malheur County District Attorney Dave Goldthorpe wrote in recent court documents that the final sentence and mental state of Anthony Montwheeler should be decided by a jury. (The Enterprise/File).

VALE – Anthony Montwheeler’s lawyers want the judge presiding over his case to find he was insane two years ago at the time of two murders he is accused of committing and should not be sentenced to death.

As part of a series of motions filed before Multnomah County Circuit Judge Thomas Ryan, Montwheeler’s attorneys – Dave Falls, Nicholas Ortiz and Bryan Boender – assert Montwheeler “is not eligible for a death sentence based on the determinant that at the time of the offense alleged herein, as a result of a mental disease or defect, he lacked substantial capacity either to appreciate the criminality of his conduct or lacked the ability to conform his conduct to the requirements of the law.”

In court documents, Montwheeler’s attorney’s assert the Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution blocks his execution.

In the same motion, Montwheeler’s defense team claims a death penalty jury is “not appropriate” and contend Montwheeler’s maximum penalty should be life without parole if he is convicted.

Dave Goldthorpe, Malheur County district attorney, doesn’t agree. In a response filed last week, Goldthorpe said a decision on Montwheeler’s sanity and final sentence are for a jury to decide.

The attorneys have previously suggested they may assert an insanity defense but the filing is the most explicit declaration yet that this would be their strategy.

Montwheeler’s legal team also asked the court for a change of venue, asserting their client – because of media coverage – would be unable to receive a fair trial in Malheur County.

Goldthorpe asked the court to deny the defense team motion, citing case law – including previous U.S. Supreme Court rulings – that jurors are not required to be totally unaware of the facts of a case to perform their role.

“It is sufficient if the juror can lay aside his impression or opinion and render a verdict based on the evidence presented in court,” Goldthorpe wrote in his response.

Goldthorpe also wrote that “adverse publicity alone, however, is not an adequate basis for granting a motion for a change of venue.”

In 1997, Montwheeler was found guilty except for insanity in the kidnapping of his then-wife and their son in Baker City. He was put under the jurisdiction of the state Psychiatric Security Review Board instead of going to prison. The board released Montwheeler in late 2016 after Montwheeler claimed he had been faking a mental illness for 20 years. A state doctor said he could find no indication Montwheeler suffered a qualifying mental illness.

On May 13, Ryan agreed to grant the defense more time to prepare their case and pushed Montwheeler’s trial to July 2020.

Ryan also decided to review all of the motions in the case – except for a request by the defense for a change of venue – in August.

Montwheeler 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 chase on Oregon Highway 201 near Ontario.

Montwheeler faces counts of aggravated murder, three counts of murder, and one count each of first degree assault and first-degree kidnapping.

Have a news tip? Contact reporter Pat Caldwell at 541-473-3377 or [email protected]

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