Lester Van Waters Jr. and Michael Keith Spell pleaded not guilty to deliberate homicide and attempted kidnapping charges during their arraignment hearings in Seventh Judicial District Court Tuesday afternoon.
During the hearing for Spell, District Judge Richard Simonton asked the standard questions of if Spell was currently under the influence of alcohol or drugs and if he suffered from any emotional problems. His attorney Randi Hood said there are some issues concering Spell’s competency, but she had explained to Spell what was going to happen during this proceedings.
“I believe he is able to go forward with being able to enter a not guilty plea,” Hord said.
Because it’s a capital punishment case, by law Spell needs to have two lawyers with capital case backgrounds. Steven Scott will serve as Spell’s second lawyer.
Waters’ representation consists of Cynthia Thornton and Gregory Jackson.
Omnibus hearings have been scheduled for July 17 at 2 p.m. for Spell and July 17 at 2:30 p.m. for Waters.
Attorneys for Waters and Spell agreed to have waivers for a speedy trial signed.
Hood said she doesn’t expect the trial to end until late winter or early spring.
The deliberate homicide charge pertains to causing the death of Arnold by either choking her or holding her face in mud or water until she was dead. Potential sentences are death or life imprisonment or imprisonment in the state prison of not less than 10 years or more than 100 years.
The attempted kidnapping charge alleges Waters attempted to restrain Sidney teacher Sherry Arnold by either secreting or holding her in a place of isolation and committed an act of furtherance by operating a green Ford Explorer when Spell grabbed Arnold and forced her into the vehicle. Sentences can be a term of not less than two years or more than 10 years and a fine of not more than $50,000.
Richland County Attorney Mike Weber filed a “notice of intent to seek the death penalty” on each defendant. The notice provides intent of seeking the death penalty upon a conviction.
On Feb. 28, each of the Colorado men pleaded not guilty to the changes of aggravated kidnapping
At the time, trial dates for Spell were scheduled for July 16-20. The dates for Waters’ trial were set for July 30-Aug. 3.
On April 27, however, the changes were increased to deliberate homicide and attempted kidnapping.
The Sidney High School math teacher was reported missing Jan. 7 after she left her home for a morning jog. Arnold’s body was discovered March 21 in a rural area in North Dakota.
Waters and Spell reportedly left Parachute, Colo., on Jan. 4 to look for work in the oil fields near Williston.
Spell’s girlfriend, Angel Cruz, notified authorities that Spell told her that Waters made him smoke crack cocaine while they were driving to North Dakota.
Spell told law enforcement that Waters was smoking crack cocaine during the entire trip, and that Waters began talking about kidnapping and killing a female.
The two men were extradited to Montana after a Feb. 14 hearing in Williston. They appeared before Sidney City Court Judge Greg Mohr in Sidney later that day on charges of aggravated kidnapping. Mohr set bail at $2.5 million for each defendant.