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Defense in Arnold trial asking for hearing to determine mental fitness

The defense team for the man accused in the murder of Montana teacher Sherry Arnold plans to bring four experts to testify on his mental fitness for trial, one of the lawyers said Monday.

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Michael Spell was moved recently from the state hospital in Warm Springs, Mont., back to the county correctional facility because his mental evaluation has been completed, defense attorney Al Avignone said.

Avignone said he will next request that the judge schedule several days in March for hearings with the evaluation findings to determine whether Spell is mentally fit for trial.

At those hearings, the defense will have two state hospital employees and two retained psychologists testify about Spell’s condition. His attorney from a Colorado case, where he was determined unfit for trial, and Avignone will also testify.

The defense’s witness experts say Spell is intellectually disabled, Avignone said.

Co-defendant Lester Van Waters, Jr. pleaded guilty in August under a deal that spares him execution and requires him to testify against Spell.

After a drug-fueled drive from Colorado to the Bakken in search of work in January 2012, the two men allegedly grabbed Arnold as she was jogging and choked her or drowned her in a puddle until she died.

Her body was found two months later near Williston.