Submitted on Briefs: September 20, 2017
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
Appellant: Wendy Holton, Attorney at Law, Helena, Montana
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
McGrath, Chief Justice
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.
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.
AND FACTUAL BACKGROUND
On January 7, 2012, Gary Arnold returned home after a morning
walk and noticed his wife, Sherry Arnold (Arnold) was not
there. 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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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. ...