A memorial to Vale’s David Bates is a solemn fixture on Oregon Highway 201 between Ontario and Vale. Last week family members of Bates and Annita Harmon spoke about the loss of the two area residents during a sentencing hearing for Anthony Montwheeler. (The Enterprise/File).
VALE – Anthony Montwheeler came to court Friday dressed in clean street clothes, wearing glasses and sporting a fresh haircut.
His appearance was a far cry from the disheveled, jail-uniform clad figure seen in a long series of court appearances at the Malheur County Courthouse.
But, then again, Friday was a significant day for the former Nampa man. Montwheeler was at the Malheur County Circuit Court to receive a prison sentence – but not before more than a dozen family members of his victims received an opportunity to speak.
Some had a lot to say.
Others were quick and concise.
Many cried or choked back tears.
The sentencing session, held inside a packed courtroom, was the final chapter on a four-year-long legal case that began in the early morning hours of a cold, overcast January day in 2017.
Montwheeler pleaded guilty Feb. 26 to second-degree murder, first-degree manslaughter and third-degree assault.
Montwheeler stabbed to death his ex-wife, Annita Harmon, killed Vale resident David Bates and injured his wife Jessica in a head-on crash as he fled police.
Under terms of the plea deal reached earlier this year, Montwheeler will serve a life sentence for killing Harmon but be eligible for parole in 25 years – when he is 78. But he would have to serve another 10 years of the 20-year sentence he has agreed to for Bates’ death. He would also get a three-year sentence for injuring Jessica Bates, to be served as part of the overall sentence.
While there was an undercurrent of anguish and anger from the relatives of David Bates and Harmon, a major theme from many of the speakers was forgiveness.
“All I can do is pray for your tormented soul,” said Lucas Faverau, Annita Harmon’s son.
Stacey Harmon-Roeber, Annita Harmon’s older sister, talked about the pain and sorrow she endured since the death of her sister.
“It’s been four years of wondering what I would say when this came. I want to thump my chest, I want to wail. But that’s not appropriate in this place,” said Harmon-Roeber.
Harmon-Roeber, though, said she had “no words of anger toward Tony.”
“God loves Tony as much as he loves me,” said Harmon-Roeber.
Harmon-Roeber, who said she was 8 when Annita Harmon was born, told the court that her kid sister was a “precocious, tow-headed, brown eyed girl that loved to tease us.”
“I remember how she loved horses and animals. I remember special sister time when she was little,” said Harmon-Roeber.
Harmon-Roeber said Montwheeler’s crimes terrorized her.
“I used to be fearless. Now I am a fearful red head. I have anxiety. I don’t sleep some nights,” Harmon-Roeber said.
At one point Harmon-Roeber began to weep.
“I wonder what her body felt when he stabbed her. Was she scared? Was she angry? I hate I wasn’t there to protect her,” Harmon-Roeber said.
Harmon described how her sister loved candy sprinkles.
After Annita’s death, said Harmon-Roeber, she went through her personal belongings she found more than 100 bottles of sprinkles.
Harmon-Roeber talked about Annita’s love of baking and family dinners.
“That all added up to a life,” said Harmon-Roeber.
After Harmon-Roeber spoke, a short slide show depicting key moments in Annita Harmon’s life was shown.
Jessica Bates of Vale told Montwheeler that it is “obvious you caused a huge amount of hurt and loss.”
“I want you to know, Anthony, that I forgive you. I really do hope this will give you pause to stop and seek God,” said Bates.
Bates then turned to face the Harmon family.
“My heart breaks for what you guys went through,” said Bates.
David Bates’ brother, John, told Montwheeler “the only person you see as a victim is yourself.”
“You are an extremely self-absorbed narcissist. I forgive you, but not for your sake, but so you have no part of my heart,” said John Bates.
Josh Schoorl, David Bates’ nephew, said that David Bates was “the best my family had to offer.”
“To say this feels like justice would be a lie. You are a murderer and a despicable human being,” Schoorl said.
Anna Schoorl, David Bates’ niece, remarked that Montwheeler “devastated two families.”
“You have wounded us beyond words and tested us in ways I never would want to be tested. I would do anything to have my uncle back. My prayers are you humble yourself before God,” said Schoorl.
Elisa Mooney, David Bates’ sister, also told Montwheeler she forgave him. She also urged Montwheeler to give himself to God.
“He loves you, Anthony,” said Elisa Mooney.
Kathy Peterson, David Bates’ sister, said her parents “have lost years” because of their son’s death.
“I don’t think that justice was served. I don’t know if justice can be served in Oregon,” said Peterson.
Peterson then addressed Montwheeler’s defense team.
“I don’t know how you guys look yourself in the mirror. Will Montwheeler die in prison? Who knows with this system,” said Peterson.
Another sister of David Bates, Connie Schoorl, said she spent “the past two weeks trying to figure out what to say.”
She said she wasn’t ready to deliver forgiveness.
“I pray someday I can forgive. I hope I can let go of this. But when I see David’s beautiful wife raising five kids, I’m a pit bull,” said Schoorl.
Schoorl said her brother “already forgave the jerk who took his life.”
“I don’t know if I will ever stop hating you Tony. You’ve caused so much pain. You are a coward and don’t deserve to breath oxygen anymore,” she said.
After the testimony from the families, Dave Goldthorpe, Malheur County district attorney, read his statement. At one point, Goldthorpe was forced to stop as he was overcome with emotion.
Goldthorpe said “there is no punishment under the laws of the state of Oregon harsh enough for Anthony Montwheeler.”
“No amount of time in prison could ever even come close to making these families whole after what he did to all of them,” said Goldthorpe.
Goldthorpe called Montwheeler “evil.”
“He is abusive. He is a horrible human being and his face should never be seen by any of these good people who have spoken to you today,” said Goldthorpe.
“As a result of the defendant’s evil and cowardice, two loving parents were killed. He left a wake of suffering in the lives of all who love David and Annita, and his prolonging of this case only caused their suffering to drag on due to the lack of finality and a delay of justice. That ends today,” said Goldthorpe.
Montwheeler was the last to speak, providing a brief statement.
“I can’t express the right words of sorrow. I have caused so much pain. To say I am sorry isn’t nearly enough,” said Montwheeler.
News tip? Contact reporter Pat Caldwell at [email protected]lheurenterprise.com
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