BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — Prosecutors say they no longer will pursue the death penalty against a Colorado man suspected of killing a teacher in eastern Montana’s oil patch. Tuesday’s move by Richland County Attorney Mike Weber comes after psychiatrists determined 25-year-old Michael Keith Spell is mentally disabled. Spell is charged with killing 43-year-old Sherry Arnold, who disappeared while jogging along a Sidney street in 2012. Weber cited a 2002 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that said executing mentally disabled criminals constitutes cruel and unusual punishment. A state judge on Friday rejected attempts by Spell’s attorneys to have him declared incompetent. That would have let him avoid trial. Spell now faces a maximum of life in prison if convicted on charges of attempted kidnapping and deliberate homicide. An accomplice pleaded guilty in a deal with prosecutors.
Industry: Bakken oil not more risky than others
BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — The oil industry is pushing back against tougher rules for rail cars after a string of fiery accidents, insisting that crude shipped from the Northern Plains is no more dangerous than some other cargoes. An industry-funded report released Tuesday said Bakken oil from North Dakota and Montana is similar to other light crudes. North Dakota Petroleum Council vice president Kari Cutting says that shows current rules for tank cars are sufficient. Oil trains in the U.S. and Canada were involved in at least eight major accidents during the last year, including an explosion in Lac-Megantic, Quebec that killed 47. Regulators in response have discouraged shippers from using older tank cars known to rupture during accidents. A former senior federal railway safety official, Grady Cothen, says the accidents justify government intervention.
Physical therapist assistant pleads guilty in case
BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — A former physical therapy assistant at an eastern Montana hospital has pleaded guilty to conspiring with his boss to steal prescription pain medication from patients’ homes. The Billings Gazette reports 33-year-old Cale Handran of Scobey pleaded guilty Monday to conspiracy to acquire a controlled substance by subterfuge. U.S. District Judge Susan Watters scheduled sentencing for Sept. 4. Prosecutors alleged Handran and physical therapist Kevin Criswell took hydrocodone and oxycodone from patients from January 2011 through August 2012 during home health visits in the Scobey area. The investigation began when some residents reported their prescription pain medication had been stolen and others went to the pharmacist to find out why their medication wasn’t working and the pharmacist found they had been replaced with aspirin or Tylenol. Criswell, now of Libby, has pleaded guilty to the same charge.
Exploding targets banned in Idaho, Mont., Dakotas
BOISE, Idaho (AP) — The U.S. Forest Service has banned exploding targets in northern Idaho, Montana, North Dakota and portions of South Dakota due to wildfire and public safety concerns.
Northern Region Forester Faye Krueger announced Tuesday the regional closure that immediately prohibits exploding targets on national forest lands. Some target shooters use the exploding targets because they contain chemical components that mix when struck by a bullet and create a fireball. The Forest Service says exploding targets the past two years have started at least 16 wildfires in western states that cost $33 million to fight. The order includes all 12 national forests and grasslands in the Northern Region. The fine for using the banned targets is up to $5,000 and six months in jail.
Trial underway in death of Butte infant
BUTTE, Mont. (AP) — A trial is underway in Butte in the case of a man charged with beating his infant daughter and failing to seek medical help for hours. The Montana Standard reports 32-year-old Matthew Blaz is charged with deliberate homicide for the Aug. 16, 2013 death of Mattisyn Blaz. During opening arguments Monday, prosecutors argued Blaz caused his daughter’s fatal brain injuries. Defense attorneys said a neighborhood boy dropped the baby. Blaz has maintained his innocence. Jurors heard a recording of the 911 call Blaz made several hours after he said he heard the infant scream when a young neighbor visited. In the call, Blaz said he was concerned because the baby had been “breathing weird all day” but that he planned to pick his wife up from work before seeking medical help.
Forest Services expands firefighting tanker fleet
DENVER (AP) — The U.S. Forest Service says it is adding four aircraft to its firefighting fleet as California recovers from a spate of blazes and other fire-prone states brace for another hot, dry summer. In a statement, the service said it will have a second DC10, which can carry up to 11,600 gallons of retardant, and three smaller planes that can carry up to 3,000 gallons. That brings the total to 21 large air tankers and more than 100 helicopters. The announcement comes as the Obama administration pushes Congress to ensure that enough money is available to fight destructive wildfires. The Forest Service expects to exceed this year’s budget in July, two months before this fiscal year ends.
No continued retaliation against BPA whistleblower
PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — The U.S. Energy Department says allegations of continued retaliation against one Bonneville Power Administration whistleblower are not substantiated. The allegations were made by a staffer at the power-marketing agency, who last year helped expose unfair practices concerning the hiring of veterans. They were reported to the department’s Office of Inspector General by Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon, former chair of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. In a report Tuesday, the inspector general said BPA management took steps that “prevented even the appearance that an adverse personnel action was being taken against the staffer.” The inspector general has previously found widespread discrimination in hiring veterans and retaliation against whistleblowers at the utility. The BPA markets power from 31 federal dams and manages much of the region’s power grid.