Attorney: Prison sentence for Sherry Arnold's killer "cruel and - KPAX.com | Continuous News | Missoula & Western Montana

Attorney: Prison sentence for Sherry Arnold's killer "cruel and unusual punishment"

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Michael Spell (Montana Department of Corrections photo) Michael Spell (Montana Department of Corrections photo)
Sherry Arnold Sherry Arnold

An attorney for the man serving 100 years at Montana State Prison for the death of Sidney school teacher Sherry Arnold has asked the Montana Supreme Court to vacate the sentence.

Helena attorney Wendy Holton states in an appeal filed Monday that Michael Spell's prison sentence amounts to "cruel and unusual punishment" because he should have been found not competent.

The appeal requests Spell's guilty plea or his 100-year sentence for deliberate homicide be vacated and that he be placed into the custody of the state Department of Health and Human Services.

Spell's "disabilities require that he be placed in a facility that has training and experience in dealing with developmentally disabled adults and a situation that will provide structure and support systems to deal with his developmental limitations," Holton states in the appeal. "The failure to do so violates the prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment contained in both the State and Federal Constitutions as well as the Dignity Clause of Montana's Constitution."

Spell was sentenced in April 2015 in Richland County District Court by Judge Richard Simonton. The sentence was imposed following a plea agreement that called for Spell to admit guilt for the January 7, 2012 killing of Arnold, a well-known school teacher.

In exchange, prosecutors agreed to drop their effort to have Spell sentenced to death. The plea agreement was reached after Simonton rejected defense arguments that Spell was not competent to stand trial. 

Arnold was killed during a morning jog and her body buried outside Williston, N. D.

Spell's co-defendant, Lester Van Waters, was sentenced to 100 years,  with 20 years suspended. Spell's appeal was filed after numerous extensions were granted to his defense.  

According to state prison records, Spell is currently serving his time at the Montana State Prison in Deer Lodge. 

Click here to read the appeal.

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