Montwheeler court case enters into new phase

Anthony Montwheeler’s case is now set to go before a jury in February. (The Enterprise/File)

VALE – Attorneys representing a former Nampa man accused of killing an ex-wife and a Vale resident have requested a settlement conference with the Malheur County District Attorney’s Office.

The request is the latest plot point in a legal saga for Anthony Montwheeler that began on a fog-shrouded morning in January 2017 at an Ontario gas station.

Montwheeler’s defense team requested the settlement conference several weeks ago, said Dave Goldthorpe, Malheur County district attorney.

The conference is designed for the state and the defense to determine if some kind of deal can be reached on a legal matter.

Montwheeler remains in custody in the Malheur County Jail.

“In any case you can have negotiations and possibly resolve it without a plea. In a major case like this, sometimes a defense attorney prefers to have a judge be part of it,” said Goldthorpe.

A settlement conference is typically held in a judge’s chambers or a private conference room. There is no court reporter in the conference and usually people not involved with case cannot attend the session.

“If we want to resolve it, we can but we don’t have to,” said Goldthorpe.

Goldthorpe said neither his office or Montwheeler’s defense team has presented an offer to resolve the case, rather both sides are “exploring options.” Goldthorpe said no date has been set for the conference.

Montwheeler is charged with a series of crimes that occurred in January 2017. He is accused of kidnapping his ex-wife, Annita Harmon, and stabbing her to death outside of an Ontario gas station. He is also charged with murder following a head-on crash on Oregon Highway 201 that killed Vale resident Daivd Bates and injured his wife, Jessica.

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

The crimes Montwheeler is accused of occurred less than a month after he was discharged from the Oregon State Hospital.

He was released after state doctors reversed 20 years of diagnoses to conclude Montwheeler didn’t appear mentally ill but remained a risk to the community. Montwheeler himself said he faked his illness to avoid a prison sentence for a 1996 kidnapping.

Montwheeler’s case has meandered through the Oregon court system for more than three years. Montwheeler pleaded not guilty in early 2019 and a trial date was set for that September. In May 2019, Multnomah County Circuit Judge Thomas Ryan pushed the trial to July 2020 to give Montwheeler’s attorneys time to prepare.

Ryan has reset the trial date to next February because of the pandemic.

Meantime, Ryan has decided the trial would not be moved out of Malheur County.

West Linn defense attorney David Falls, representing Montwheeler, sought a change in venue based on the extensive coverage of the case by the Enterprise.

Falls wrote in court filings that “the local press coverage of Mr. Montwheeler has been persistent, prosecutorial biased, extremely inflammatory and characterized by deep and bitter prejudice.”

Ryan dismissed the request on July 10. He said in his ruling that the media attention to the crime was not “unusual given that defendant stands accused of causing the deaths of two members of the greater local area, and causing injuries to a third person.”

“Nothing in this record leads the court to conclude that potential jurors would be so influenced by media attention that they would have predetermined or immutable opinions on the matter,” Ryan wrote.

Meantime, the state won dismissal of lawsuits by Jessica Bates and the family of Annita Harmon that were aimed at holding state officials responsible for letting Montwheeler go.

News tip? Contact reporter Pat Caldwell at [email protected] or 541-235-1003.

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