Michael Keith Spell pleads guilty

18 November, 2014

Michael Keith Spell and  attorney Alfred Avignone

Michael Keith Spell and attorney Alfred Avignone

defense attorney Lisa Banick

defense attorney Lisa Banick

Michael Spell, 25, was guided by his attorney Al Avignone in submitting a plea agreement to the court. That agreement states Spell accepts the deliberate homicide charge in exchange for the state dropping the attempted kidnapping charge. In the agreement, the prosecution will recommend a 100 year sentence with a chance for parole.
Avignone said in court that the defense would ask the judge to have Spell sentenced to the Montana Department of Health and Human Services rather than prison.

With Spell’s admission, the next stage in the murder case is for both men to be sentenced. Court dates for those hearings have yet to be scheduled.

[October 15

District Court Judge Richard Simonton. 7th Judicial District

District Court Judge Richard Simonton. 7th Judicial District

On October 14, the court denied Michael Keith Spell’s petition to be declared unfit for trial.

Spell’s defense team argued he would be unable to understand the case against him due to his developmental disability.

In a unanimous ruling, the court said intellectually disabled persons frequently know the difference between right and wrong, and are able to understand the proceedings and assist in their own defense.

October 4 Sherry Arnold murder hearing on October 1, written order to follow]
Judge Richard Simonton ruled on some defense motions during a hearing October 1, and he will issue a written order on all of the pending motions regarding evidence in the case within a week

{September 15 Sherry Arnold murder hearing on October 1]
Prosecutors asked a state judge to deny a defense request to suppress the suspect’s alleged confession in the Sherry Arnold murder case. Because Spell is mentally disabled, his attorneys say he was not capable of voluntarily waiving his rights to remain silent and have an attorney present. Spell’s attorneys want his statements — and any evidence obtained as a result — barred from his Nov. 17 trial.
Deputy Richland County Attorney T.R. Halvorson wrote in a court brief that law enforcement video shows Michael Keith Spell made his statements voluntarily.
Spell, of Parachute, Colo., is accused of killing 43-year-old Sidney High School math teacher Sherry Arnold during an attempted abduction in the Bakken oil patch.
He allegedly confessed to his involvement during an interrogation by FBI agents following his arrest six days after Arnold’s 2012 disappearance. District Court Judge Richard Simonton. 7th Judicial District , scheduled an Oct. 1 hearing in Glendive.

[December 8 2013]

 defense attorney Lisa Banick

defense attorney Lisa Banick

In an order vacating trial, District Judge Richard A. Simonton noted that on December 3 he was advised by the Montana State Hospital that it could not complete its evaluation and reports within 30 days. In early November, Simonton ordered Spell be transported to the Montana State Hospital in Warm Springs for an examination to determine if Spell has the ability to understand the proceedings against him and to assist in his own defense, and whether he is suffering from a developmental disability that renders him unable to appreciate the criminality of his behavior or to conform his behavior to the requirements of the law. Spell was taken to Warm Springs on Nov. 13.

The judge ruled that the examination will be extended to the statutory 60 days.

Simonton wrote, “Accordingly, the Court reluctantly vacates the Jan. 6, 2014, trial and the Dec. 20, 2013, hearing. Upon receipt of the information from the Montana State Hospital, a scheduling conference will be held to determine appropriate dates.”

The Dec. 20 hearing was to determine if Spell is fit to stand trial.
[October 29]

Richland County Judge Richard Simonton on September 27 set a Nov. 4 hearing on whether a Colorado man charged with killing an eastern Montana teacher should be declared ineligible for the death penalty..

Defense attorneys for 24-year-old Michael Keith Spell say he suffers from mental disabilities that preclude a death sen-tence under a 2002 U.S. Supreme Court ruling. Prosecutors who have filed notice that they intend to seek the death penalty in the case oppose the defense motion. Spell, of Parachute, Colo., is accused of killing popular high school math teacher Sherry Arnold of Sidney in January 2012. Her body was found weeks later buried in a shallow grave in a rural area near Williston, N.D.

Simonton set a second hearing for Oct. 24 on several other pending matters, including a request by Spell’s attorneys to relocate his Jan. 6 trial due to the widespread publicity the case h
The Richland County Attorney’s office has argued that Spell could receive a fair trial in Sidney.
[July 18]
Michael Keith Spell is ineligible for execution under a 2002 U.S. Supreme Court ruling according to a new motion. In that case justices reversed the death sentence of Daryl Atkins, a Virginia man convicted of murder, on the grounds that executing the “mentally retarded” violated the Constitution’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment.
Spell still would face a potential life sentence and a minimum of 10 years in prison if convicted of deliberate homicide. He’s also charged with attempted kidnapping, which carries a maximum sentence of 10 years.

Spellt has been examined by a mental health professional and found to meet the court’s definition of mentally disabled. That includes having an IQ of 75 or lower and being incapable of normal mental functions.

“We’re talking about everyday skills, living skills, ability to drive a car, make change, hold a job and be able to learn skills,” Attorney Alfred Avignone said.

Spell told a judge in an initial court appearance last year that he cannot read. His father has said Spell had less education than a kindergartner.

He had traveled with Lester Van Waters Jr to the oil fields of Montana and North Dakota looking for work. Court documents, however, allege the Arnold abduction came just days after the pair left Colorado and after both suspects had smoked crack cocaine during the journey.

Prosecutors have until Aug. 21 to respond to the motion from Avignone and fellow defense attorney Lisa Banick, which was filed under seal.

[March 24]

Attorney Alfred Avignone, for 23-year-old Michael Keith Spell $400,000 was spent last year on death penalty defense work


Harry Freebourn, the agency’s administrative director, said $400,000 was spent last year on death penalty defense work. The agency is asking the Legislature for a $900,000 appropriation to supplement its current $500,000 budget dedicated to death penalty defense.

Most of that money will be spent on the only pretrial death penalty case in Montana, the kidnapping and murder of Sidney teacher Sherry Arnold.

Richland County prosecutors are seeking a death sentence against Michael Keith Spell and Lester Van Waters Jr., two Colorado men accused of abducting Arnold in January 2012 as she was jogging.

[January 12]
Attorneys for Lester Van Waters Jr. and Michael Keith Spell, suspects in the Sherry Arnold case, filed notices warning of their intent to file multiple motions by April 30.. Pretrial motions on both the defendants’ side and the state are due by the end of April. A response is due by June 30 with a final reply July 31 for Waters. A response is due by July 31 for Spell and final reply Sept. 6. State District Judge Richard Simonton appointed Alfred Avignone, Lisa Banick and Eric Brewer as the public defenders for 23-year-old Michael Keith Spell of Parachute, Colo.

[August 28]

 There are 482 trillion cubic feet of shale gas in the US,

There are 482 trillion cubic feet of shale gas in the US,


  The Roan Plateau, rising 3,500 feet above the Colorado River valley, with the towns of Rifle and Parachute at its feet,


The Roan Plateau, rising 3,500 feet above the Colorado River valley, with the towns of Rifle and Parachute at its feet,

On July 24, a detention officer was assisting Micheal Spell to a room across the hall from his cell for a haircut. While getting his hair cut, an inmate grabbed the attention of the officer who told him he was not allowed to enter the “pod” with Spell unattended. Roughly 15 minutes later, Thomas David Kilbury, 31, Cuba, Mo., and an inmate yelled that something was wrong with another inmate, and they needed immediate help.
The detention officer alerted central control and assessed the situation, sensing a “trap.” Kilbury made a rush and attacked Spell. According to documents, the officer heard Kilbury say, “I got you now,” before landing a punch to Spell’s face as he turned to see what was happening. The officer put himself between Kilbury and Spell to prevent further blows. Additional officers separated the two. Kilbury “cloaking himself as some sort of hero for his actions,” was sentenced to six months in jail with no days suspended
[April 28] An amended complaint filed by Richland County prosecutor Mike Weber on April 27 specified murder charges and said he intends to seek the death penalty against two men accused of kidnapping a Montana teacher whose body was discovered in North Dakota two months after she disappeared. Lester Van Waters Jr., 48, and Michael Keith Spell, 22, both of Parachute, Colorado., are accused of grabbing Sherry Arnold off a street in Sidney, Mont., on Jan. 7 while she was on a pre-dawn run.
On March 19, Waters led FBI agents to where Sherry’s body was located, the new court documents state.

After leading agents out of Williston, Waters directed the agents on to Highway 1804 “until he recognized the area where Sherry Arnold was buried.”

Waters said the burial site was in a shelter belt, and eventually led agents to where her body was buried.

“Waters recognized the burial site and pointed out where the dirt from the hole was deposited,” court records state. “A broken branch was resting over the hole.”

Waters said Arnold had been buried on her side in the fetal position and showed the agents where they had parked the vehicle.

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