Judge Thomas M. Ryan ruled last week that a psychological evaluation of Anthony Montwheeler will remain sealed. The report confirms the former Nampa man is fit to stand trial. (The Enterprise/File).
VALE – A Multnomah County Circuit Court judge has ruled that the latest psychological evaluation of Anthony Montwheeler will remain sealed from public view.
Judge Thomas M. Ryan, in a narrowly-tailored response Monday, March 11, declared the December 2018 report, which confirms Montwheeler is fit to stand trial, will remain secret for several reasons.
Ryan wrote the evaluation has not been entered into evidence in court, its conclusions have only “very minimally been discussed in court” and no witnesses have testified about it.
The judge, presiding in Malheur County Circuit Court over Montwheeler’s criminal case, said that release of the report would “risk speculation that would be prejudicial to the defendant’s ability to receive a fair trial.”
Montwheeler, a former Nampa resident, is accused of kidnapping and killing Weiser resident Annita Harmon, an ex-wife, then killing Vale’s David Bates in a head-on collision during a police chase between Ontario and Vale in January 2017. Bates’ wife, Jessica, also was injured in the crash.
The Malheur Enterprise filed a request with the court for access to the 35-page report which was sealed by Ryan at the request of Montwheeler’s defense and Dave Goldthorpe, Malheur County district attorney because disclosing it would invade Montwheeler’s privacy.
Montwheeler’s defense team asked Ryan to reject the Enterprise’s request because the local newspaper is “not a party and no rule or statute authorizes the submission.”
The judge denied the defense request.
Montwheeler’s attorneys also asked Ryan for a wide-sweeping protective order to keep Montwheeler’s medical records secret for “any purpose other than the litigation” of his case.
While Ryan found the defense’s request “appropriate” he also wrote it was confusing. Ryan wrote the defense motion for a protective order of Montwheeler’s medical records seemed to suggest prohibiting public access to “any records filed with the court containing such information.”
Ryan wrote that the defense and the prosecution could file requests regarding how each handles such information in their possession but as for information filed with the court there would be no “blanket protective or sealing order. Instead any such order (to keep Montwheeler’s medical records secret) must be made for each document filed with the court that the party wants sealed.”
Ryan wrote that documents filed with court are, “absent an order, rule or statute to the contrary, public records.”
While Ryan agreed to seal the report “at least for the time being,” he noted the Malheur Enterprise’s request for disclosure was “appropriate” and it “addresses important and relevant issues relating to this motion that arise under Article I, Section 10 of our Constitution.”
Last year, the Malheur Enterprise was successful in convincing the court to release a long-confidential report by a state psychiatrist on Montwheeler’s mental state.
Ryan’s ruling Monday was just the latest in what has become more than two-year court saga.
A Malheur County grand jury indicted Montwheeler on Jan. 12, 2017, and since then the Nampa man logged stints at the state hospital twice for evaluations regarding his capacity to aid in his own defense. He may be sent to the state hospital for a third time after the state asked for yet another psychiatric exam, this time to determine whether he was mentally ill at the time of the crimes.
After the state hospital declared he was fit to stand trial in December he entered a not guilty plea Feb. 22 to charges of aggravated murder, three counts of murder and one count each of first-degree assault and first-degree kidnapping.
His trial is scheduled for September.
Reporter Pat Caldwell: [email protected] or 541-473-3377.
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