Last week Anthony Montwheeler asked Circuit Judge Thomas Ryan of Multnomah County to dismiss his lawyers citing several reasons including brainwashing. (The Enterprise/File).
UPDATED: This story was amended Wednesday after the judge replied to the involved attorneys in letter made public Tuesday afternoon after the paper was sent for printing.
VALE — Anthony Montwheeler wants to fire the attorneys defending him against charges of aggravated murder, assault and kidnapping.
Over three days last week, the Malheur County Circuit Court received three letters from the 50-year-old man.
They were logged into the public court file Friday, and the judge replied Monday that he would not make a decision until later this summer.
“We are dismissing or firing the lawyers. You are all shysters and work for the government,” Montwheeler said in the handwritten letters to Circuit Judge Thomas Ryan of Multnomah County, who is overseeing the case after local judges recused themselves.
“You have been trying to read my mind, implants and brainwashing. All of you will never get into my head. They will not let you,” the letter continued.
If Montwheeler’s legal team doesn’t voluntarily withdraw, Ryan decides whether to accept Montwheeler’s request. In a Monday letter to both legal teams , Ryan said he would not make a decision until after hearings set to start June 4.
"Defense counsel is not, at this point, removed from this case and is to continue to fully represent Mr. Montwheeler until otherwise ordered by the court," he wrote.
Legal experts had said that decision was likely because the purpose of the June hearing is to consider whether Montwheeler is mentally fit to participate in his case.
“If he can’t go to trial because he’s not competent, then he can’t fire his defense counsel because he’s not competent,” said Shaun McCrea, an attorney who leads the Oregon Criminal Defense Lawyers Association.
Malheur District Attorney David Goldthorpe agreed.
“It means absolutely nothing. The only person who has the authority to fire the defense counsel is the judge,” he said. “He can’t do anything until that hearing.”
Montwheeler is represented by David Falls, a West Linn attorney appointed to defend him. Falls didn’t return a telephone message or an email seeking comment.
The letters are the first communications from Montwheeler himself that have been made public since he was charged in early 2017. He has been silent during court appearances in Vale.
According to charging documents, Montwheeler stabbed to death his ex-wife, Annita Harmon of Weiser, and killed David Bates of Vale in a head-on collision during a police pursuit. Bate’s wife, Jessica, was seriously injured in the crash south of Ontario.
If convicted, Montwheeler would face the death penalty.
The crimes occurred just four weeks after the state Psychiatric Security Review Board released Montwheeler from the Oregon State Hospital. He had been put under the board’s jurisdiction after he was judged guilty except for insanity for a 1996 kidnapping in Baker City. He told the board in December 2016 that he faked his mental illness to avoid prison in the Baker City case.
Montwheeler’s mental health is an issue in the pending murder case.
In a 37-page February report to the court, state doctors have said a mental illness impairs Montwheeler’s ability to stand trial, according to other filings in the case. The evaluation has not been released to the public despite repeated requests from the Malheur Enterprise to court administrators. Ryan subsequently sealed the report from public view.
The letters received last week include vague references to “we” and “they,” as well as conspiracy theories that his legal team and perhaps the court itself was “trying to read (his) mind.”
“We are not stupid yet treat us that we are,” Montwheeler wrote. “Your not the mind police. We know everything, the pollute of the mind - extracting thoughts, implant, brainwashing.”
Falls has asked the court order Montwheeler to the state hospital until he has recovered enough to continue the court case. He earlier said that Montwheeler intended to assert an insanity defense.
Goldthorpe is contesting that move and the most recent report that Montwheeler can’t aid in his defense. A weeklong court hearing on the matter has been scheduled for early June.
The prosecutor said he expects Montwheeler’s attorneys will point to the letters as evidence of mental illness. He said he wasn’t free to discuss the state hospital report, but said he intends to argue that Montwheeler isn’t impaired by a mental illness.
He expressed frustration that court administrators made Montwheeler’s letters public.
“This wouldn’t be the first time in history an inmate has written the judge when their attorney didn’t know about it. They wouldn’t ever become part of the court record unless they were offered as evidence,” he said.
Reporter Jayme Fraser: [email protected]; 541-473-3377.
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