After more than four years of court proceedings, Anthony Montwheeler on Friday pleaded guilty to charges related to a case in which he killed two people, including his ex-wife, and injured another person. He pleaded guilty to three charges, including murder in the second degree, manslaughter in the first degree and assault in the third degree, according to a news release from District Attorney David Goldthorpe.
Following a day-long judicial settlement conference, Montwheeler pleaded guilty to some of the nine charges he initially faced. The defense requested the conference last fall, according to Goldthorpe, which is a step typically taken when the defense is willing to resolve a case.
Due to the fact that parties were aiming for a settlement, it was not the trial judge from Multnomah County who traveled to Malheur County for the court appearance. Instead, Judge Eric Bergstrom presided over the conference. The presiding judge for previous hearings related to the trial was Circuit Judge Tom Ryan, who like Bergstrom traveled to Malheur County from Multnomah County for court appearances. The reason the case has been handled by out-of-area judges was because Malheur County Circuit Court Judges Lung Hung and Erin Landis had to recuse themselves due to being prosecutors in a case involving Montwheeler in 2005. Montwheeler’s defense tried to get the venue for proceedings changed in 2017, however that attempt was unsuccessful.
During his time awaiting trial, Montwheeler was evaluated at the Oregon State Hospital to see if he was capable of aiding and assisting in his defense. A judge deemed that Montwheeler was fit for trial in December of 2018.
Before the plea agreement on Friday, Montwheeler was facing four charges of murder in the first degree, three charges of murder in the second degree, kidnapping and assault in the first degree. His initial indictment in 2017 had four counts of aggravated murder, but those were amended to murder in the first degree in February of 2020, after the passage of Oregon Senate Bill 1013.
As he had already pleaded not guilty to initial charges in 2017, Montwheeler had to re-enter a plea in 2020 on the amended charges, which remained not guilty.
Montwheeler’s charges stem from kidnapping his ex-wife, Anita Harmon, in Weiser, on Jan. 7, 2017, and subsequently stabbing her outside of a convenience store in Ontario. As he attempted to flee the scene in Ontario, Montwheeler crossed the centerline, colliding with another vehicle and killing David Bates, and severely injuring his wife, Jessica Bates. Harmon was found dead in that crash.
Montwheeler’s prison sentence is expected to be as follows: 25 years to life for murder in the second degree stemming from killing Harmon, 20 years (10 years concurrent, 10 years consecutive) for manslaughter in the first degree for killing David Bates, and three years for assault in the third degree for injuring Jessica Bates.
Per the agreement, the assault sentencing and first 10 years for the manslaughter charge will run at the same time as the murder charge. If Montwheeler gets released on parole for the murder charge, which could potentially happen after 25 years, he will then be required to serve another 10 years for the manslaughter charge.
Montwheeler’s sentencing is slated for March 19.