Michael Keith Spell, 24, of Parachute has been transferred to Montana State Hospital at Warm Springs, where he will undergo an examination by a mental health professional for up to 30 days to determine whether he is fit to stand trial on murder charges stemming from the January 2012 death of a Sidney, Mont., woman, according to a Nov. 4 Associated Press story out of Billings, Mont.
The move came at the request of defense attorneys who contend their client is mentally disabled and unable to understand the case against him, the story says.
The mental evaluation could determine if Spell is fit for trial in the January 2012 killing of Sherry Arnold in Sidney. The Parachute man is charged with felony murder and attempted kidnapping, and could face the death penalty if convicted.
Spell’s trial is scheduled to begin Jan. 6. The judge in the case wrote that he has no intention of rescheduling the proceedings absent “extraordinary circumstances,” the story says.
Spell is one of two suspects charged with aggravated kidnapping in the disappearance of the 43-year-old Arnold. Spell’s co-defendant, Lester Van Waters Jr., pleaded guilty in August under a deal with prosecutors that must be approved by the court. He would be spared the death penalty and receive 100 years in prison in exchange for testifying against Spell.
Arnold, a 43-year-old Sidney High School math teacher, disappeared during a morning run in January 2012. Her body was found more than two months later when Waters led FBI agents to where she’d been buried in a shallow grave outside the Bakken oil boomtown of Williston, N.D.
In a separate court filing, prosecutors on Monday rejected claims by Spell’s attorneys that the kidnapping and murder charges should be dropped. The defense claims testimony by Van Waters during his change of plea hearing revealed the pair did not intend to kidnap or kill Arnold.
Deputy Richland County Attorney T.R. Halvorson rejected the defense claim as “ambiguous self-serving hearsay.” He also dismissed the notion that County Attorney Mike Weber was deceiving the court and seeking the conviction of an innocent defendant.
“The defense knows that the State is in possession of evidence that Spell choked Sherry Arnold or held her face in mud or water until she was dead,” Halvorson wrote.