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State v. Spell

Supreme Court of Montana

November 1, 2017

STATE OF MONTANA, Plaintiff and Appellee,
v.
MICHAEL KEITH SPELL, Defendant and Appellant.

          Submitted on Briefs: September 20, 2017

         APPEAL FROM: District Court of the Seventh Judicial District, In and For the County of Richland, Cause No. DC-12-09 Honorable Richard A. Simonton, Presiding Judge

          For Appellant: Wendy Holton, Attorney at Law, Helena, Montana

          For Appellee: Timothy C. Fox, Montana Attorney General, Tammy A. Hinderman, Assistant Attorney General, Helena, Montana Mike Weber, Richland County Attorney, Joel Thompson, Special Deputy County Attorney, Sidney, Montana

          OPINION

          Mike McGrath, Chief Justice

         ¶1 This is an appeal from the Seventh Judicial District Court's determination that Michael Spell (Spell) was competent to stand trial and that, at the time of the offense, Spell was able to appreciate his behavior and conform to the requirements of the law. We affirm.

         ¶2 Spell presents the following issues for review:

1. Whether the District Court erred when it found Michael Spell competent to stand trial.
2. Whether the District Court erred when it found that, at the time of the offense, Michael Spell was able to appreciate his behavior and conform his conduct to the requirements of the law.
3. Whether sentencing Michael Spell to prison violated his constitutional rights to be free from cruel and unusual punishments and to human dignity.

         PROCEDURAL AND FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         ¶3 On January 7, 2012, Gary Arnold returned home after a morning walk and noticed his wife, Sherry Arnold (Arnold) was not there.[1] As she was an avid walker and jogger, Gary assumed Arnold had gone out for a jog. Gary became concerned when Arnold did not return home and went out to look for her. When Gary could not find Arnold, he contacted family and local law enforcement. A search for Arnold ensued.

         ¶4 The search for Arnold turned up one of her running shoes on one of her known jogging routes along Holly Street, otherwise known as the "Truck Route" in northeast Sidney, Montana. An investigation regarding Arnold's disappearance began. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) joined the investigation on January 9, 2012. ¶5 On January 11, 2012, law enforcement received information regarding communications made between Spell and his family members concerning a woman that he and another man, Lester Waters (Waters), kidnapped and killed. The tip stated that Spell contacted his girlfriend, Angel Cruz (Cruz), and told her he was stranded in North Dakota and was attempting to get home to Parachute, Colorado. Cruz stated that Spell and Waters left Parachute on January 4, 2012, in a green Ford Explorer to look for work in the oil fields near Williston, North Dakota. Spell's father was also aware of Spell's involvement in the kidnapping and homicide of a woman.

         ¶6 On January 12, 2012, FBI Special Agents spoke with Cruz, who informed them that Spell and Waters abducted a woman and killed her. Cruz told the agents that Spell said Waters made Spell shove the woman's face in a "puddle of mud, like water, until she was dead" and then forced Spell to bury the woman's body. Spell said he was afraid that Waters would kill him. Spell also told Cruz that Waters made Spell smoke crack cocaine while driving to North Dakota, and that he was now in Rapid City, South Dakota.

         ¶7 Also on January 12, 2012, a 1993 green Ford Explorer with a Colorado license plate was located by police officers in Williston, North Dakota. The driver matched Waters' description. Waters was arrested and detained for questioning. An inventory of Waters' personal belongings revealed a purchase receipt dated January 7, 2012, from a Walmart in Williston for items including a shovel.

         ¶8 On January 13, 2012, FBI Special Agents located and interviewed Spell. Spell confessed that he and Waters abducted and killed Arnold and provided the following narrative to investigators. Spell stated he and Waters left Parachute, Colorado, two or three days before they abducted Arnold while she was jogging. Waters was smoking crack cocaine during their trip and Waters told Spell that crack cocaine brought "the devil" out in Waters. Waters began talking about kidnapping and killing a female. When the two were driving through a town and saw a woman running along the road, Waters told Spell to grab and pull her into their vehicle as she jogged by. Waters parked on the side of the road and Spell got out of the vehicle, grabbed the woman, and forced her into the vehicle. In doing so, the woman's shoe fell off. This made Waters mad, and he threw Spell's knit hat into the ditch as punishment. Spell's hat was later found in a large ditch near the area where Arnold's shoe was recovered.

         ¶9 Spell stated that once the woman was in the car, Waters got into the back seat and "choked her out." Waters said he would kill Spell and Spell's family if he ever told anyone what happened. Waters then threw the woman's clothes in a dumpster behind a truck stop before he and Spell dropped off Arnold's body outside of town. They went back into Williston and purchased a shovel at Walmart. At the direction of Waters, Spell dug a hole near where they dropped Arnold's body off and placed her in it. ...


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