Montana Murder Case: Is Suspect Competent?By: Toni Matthews-El - March 25, 2014
A Montana murder trial may not go forward if the suspect’s defense can show that he is mentally unfit to stand trial.
The defense attorneys for 24-year-old Michael Keith Spell argue that his tendency to distort past events makes him unable to adequately defend himself in court. He is also alleged to have the mental intelligence of an 11-year-old boy.
Expert witnesses were called by the defense to affirm this.
Craig Beaver, a neuropsychologist based in Boise, Idaho, claimed that Spell’s mental problems are documented and that his troubles go back to 5 years of age.
Though mental health experts testified that mental incompetence could be a possibility, they also stated that the Colorado man could be “faking” his symptoms.
Spell is charged with the 2012 attempted kidnapping and murder of Sherry Arnold. The 43-year-old woman was last seen in Sidney, Montana ahead of her early morning jog.
Arnold’s body was discovered in North Dakota two months after her disappearance, buried in a shallow grave.
Two men were eventually arrested for her murder. During an FBI interrogation, co-defendant Lester Van Waters Jr. was blamed by Spell for killing Arnold.
According to court documents, the two men arrived in Montana well under the influence of drugs. They saw Arnold on a Sidney street and decided to grab her.
The documents state that Arnold died of asphyxiation during the attempted kidnapping. It is not clear what the exact manner of her death is. One scenario has Spell fatally choking her.
Once Arnold was dead, Waters Jr. and Spell are alleged to have taken the body out of state in an effort to hide what they had done.
Both men are seeking to avoid the death penalty however they can.
Waters Jr. made a plea agreement with the prosecution to testify against co-defendant Spell, who he claims was the one who murdered Arnold.
Spell’s defense is at the same time working hard to demonstrate that he lacks the mental competence to answer the charges against him.
Whether or not Spell will stand trial for the attempted kidnapping and murder of Arnold will rest in Judge Richard Simonton’s hands.
Simonton must decide if Spell is genuinely unable to stand trial or if this is a desperate ploy to avoid facing a death row sentence.
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