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He Said He Faked Insanity, Got Released. Then, Murder

Inside the strange case of Anthony Montwheeler
By Evann Gastaldo,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 2, 2020 10:55 AM CDT
Updated Apr 5, 2020 10:50 AM CDT

(Newser) – In December 2016, Anthony Montwheeler, a patient at Oregon State Hospital, went before a state review board and claimed he had faked insanity in 1996, after kidnapping his wife and son at gunpoint, in order to avoid prison. It worked: Rather than being incarcerated, he was sentenced to remain under state jurisdiction for 70 years. But the review board ultimately decided, two decades later, that there was no evidence Montwheeler was mentally ill. He was discharged, a free man. A month later, on January 9, 2017, he allegedly murdered his ex-wife, Annita Harmon, kidnapping her near her Idaho home, driving her over the border into Oregon, and slitting her throat and repeatedly stabbing her at a gas station. An employee had already noticed her signal for help and called police. As Montwheeler fled the scene, he allegedly hit another vehicle head-on, killing the driver.

In an extensive piece for Rolling Stone, Rob Fischer looks not only at Montwheeler's history—his mother was fatally shot by his father when he was 6, and in addition to the 1996 kidnapping, he had a history of criminal activity, including setting fires—but at the problems with the country's mental health care system and the insanity defense specifically. (One professor calls the system of determining insanity in the courts "squishy.") Idaho doesn't offer such a defense, and Fischer offers up the possibility that Montwheeler drove Harmon across the state line specifically because Oregon does. In fact, Oregon's system is particularly "robust" for offenders, offering subsidized housing (Montwheeler spent much of his 20 years under state jurisdiction living in the community, not a hospital), mental health treatment, and work placement—services that cost about $18,000 per month per person. Is it possible, Fischer wonders, that once Montwheeler was out, he wanted back in? It may never be clear, but read the full piece here for much more. His trial starts in July. (Read more Longform stories.)

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