KALISPELL - A man who pushed another man off a bridge to his death back in April has been sentenced to prison, and it was thanks to witnesses who called 9-1-1 investigators, who were able to break the case.
Cecil Thomas Rice was sentenced Thursday in Flathead County District Court to 70 years in the Montana State Prison for the murder of 34-year-old Anthony Walthers last year near the Old Steel Bridge on Holt Road in Evergreen.
"When this call came into us, originally it was of a man in distress floating down the middle of the river channel," said Flathead County Sheriff Chuck Curry.
It was the last time Anthony Walthers of Wyoming was seen alive.
"Of course we mobilized all of our rescue efforts that we normally would. Deputies from the Sheriff's Office and our boats," Curry said. "Flathead Search and Rescue. The Two-Bear helicopter equipped with thermal imaging technology."
Walther's body was found two months later by boaters about a mile and a half offshore from the mouth of the Flathead River.
Prosecutors said Rice pushed Walthers off the bridge over a comment he made about Rice's girlfriend.
His family says they are grateful that someone witnessed the incident.
"Without the witnesses we never really would have known what happened. Having those people there, doing what they were doing, was a straight blessing from God," said Colleen Walthers the sister-in-law of Anthony Walthers. "I can't thank the Lord enough to have those people where they were and to know that he, although wasn't savable, he didn't die alone in a river."
A jury found Rice guilty of deliberate homicide after about an hour and a half of deliberating in a trial that lasted two days in early December.
Rice's girlfriend, 25-year-old Heather Joy Meeker was sentenced last week to six months in the Flathead County Detention Center for a misdemeanor bail jumping charge related to the case. She was released with credit for time served after tampering with evidence charge was dropped, according to a plea agreement.