Relatives of David Bates and Annita Harmon left the courtroom disappointed and in tears Monday after the man accused of murdering Bates and Harmon sat silent and his scheduled plea entry was pushed back two months.
“I’m disappointed, but not surprised,” said Connie Schoorl, sister of David Bates. The Vale man died on his way to work in Ontario Jan. 9 when a pickup truck driven by Anthony Montwheeler veered across the highway and slammed into his vehicle head-on. “It’s disappointing that his rights will allow him to drag this out.”
Schoorl and at least one other family member wore large buttons bearing a photo of David and his wife, Jessica, who was severely injured in the crash but survived. One of the two aggravated murder charges against Montwheeler alleges he intentionally drove into the Bates’ SUV.
Montwheeler, 49, of Nampa, also is charged with kidnapping and fatally stabbing his ex-wife, Annita Harmon of Weiser, who also was on her way to work that morning near Fruitland. Montwheeler allegedly sped down Oregon 201 after police responded to an Oregon gas station clerk who reported seeing a man stabbing a woman in a pickup truck. Annita reportedly died from her wounds before the southbound truck, with police in pursuit, crossed into the northbound lane and struck the Bateses.
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“I’d like to have looked him in the eye,” Annita’s mother, Susan Harmon of Weiser, said before she left the courthouse.
Anthony Montwheeler sat in a wheelchair, head down, while his attorney said both of Malheur County’s judges should recuse themselves from this case because they were prosecutors on another, unrelated, case against Montwheeler in 2005. Attorney William D. Falls also raised the possibility that he might seek to move this case out of the county because of pretrial publicity, including a Malheur Enterprise story with Montwheeler’s photo featured prominently in a newspaper box on the county courthouse steps.
Judge Erin Landis rescheduled the plea hearing for June 20, a date when a judge with no apparent Montwheeler connection would be available. Falls raised concern about the first alternate judge mentioned because that judge had been a prosecutor during a 1997 Montwheeler case that has been the subject of much recent publicity and controversy.
In that case, Montwheeler was found guilty except for insanity of kidnapping another ex-wife and his young son in Baker County, Ore. He was placed under the supervision of the Oregon Psychiatric Security Review Board for 20 years, until during a hearing last December he admitted to the board he had faked the whole thing to avoid prison. Two doctors suspected early on that Montwheeler was faking it, but no apparent actions were taken then — the focus of the Malheur Enterprise report Falls mentioned.
Although he was under the review board’s jurisdiction for 20 years, Montwheeler spent less than seven years in the state hospital and nearly 10 years on conditional release, according to a timeline provided to the Statesman by OPSRB Executive Director Juliet Britton. His last 20-month stretch in the state hospital followed his release from an Oregon prison after serving 19 months on an aggravated theft conviction that was later reversed on appeal.
According to board records, his longest stretch of conditional release was the nine years between 2003 and 2012, during which time he met and married Annita Harmon. She filed for divorce in 2014.
Defense attorney Falls on Monday raised the possibility of another “guilty except for insanity plea” for Montwheeler in this case. He did not say that would be the eventual plea, but said in court “that may happen at some point in the future.”
Falls also objected in advance to any possible involvement by the state Department of Justice in this case, since state attorneys had been part of the issues surrounding Montwheeler’s previous case and its handling by the psychiatric review board. Malheur County Prosecutor David Goldthorpe said state attorneys have not asked to join the case.
If found guilty of aggravated murder, Montwheeler could face the death penalty. In addition to the two murders, he is charged with first-degree kidnapping and aggravated assault.
Kristin Rodine: 208-377-6447