Attorneys for Accused Murderer Request Competency Hearing

By Beacon Staff

The attorneys for a Kalispell man accused of double homicide have requested that the court refrain from moving the case forward until it has been decided that he is competent to assist in his own defense.

Tyler Michael Miller, also known as Tyler Michael Cheetham, is accused of shooting and killing Jaimi Hurlbert, 35, and her daughter Alyssa Burkett, 15, last Christmas.

Flathead County Attorney Ed Corrigan decided to pursue the death penalty against Miller, citing Miller’s callousness and pride expressed in his alleged confessions to the murders.

However, Miller’s attorneys requested that those confessions be suppressed because their client was high on methamphetamines when he was being questioned by law enforcement.

Miller was scheduled for a July 8 hearing during which he would attempt to suppress his confession to the crimes, but it was replaced by a hearing to discuss the competency and medication issues.

Miller’s attorney, Noel Larrivee, filed the motion to stay court proceedings on July 7, citing a report from Dr. William Stratford, a forensic psychiatrist, which concludes that Miller is unable to assist in his defense and should be medicated.

According to state law, three parties may raise the issue of competency: the court, the defendant or the defendant’s counsel, or the prosecution. If the issue is brought forth, a report must be filed with specific details including the nature of the examination and a diagnosis.

If either side of the case disagrees with the report, the issue will go to a hearing.

In his motion, Larrivee cites a report from Richard Wood, a consultant who works with capital case penalty phase preparation, outlining Miller’s background and social history. Wood “identifies a long history of pre-existing psychiatric conditions, exacerbated by methamphetamine and marijuana use at the time of the alleged offenses.”

Wood also references a long history of substance abuse, beginning when Miller was 11 years old, as well as a history of family instability.

The July 7 motion also references an assessment from neuropsychologist Dr. Christa Smelko, which states in part that Miller’s childhood included chronic emotional and behavior issues, such as significant mood changes, at-risk behaviors and aggressive episodes.

“His symptoms also rose to the level of significant (attention) problems, poor behavioral control, emotional volatility, disturbed sleep patterns, hyperactivity, and poor decision making and judgment overall,” the report states.

The report cites two known suicide attempts, and Miller’s daily methamphetamine use at the time of the murders. There also appeared to be evidence of distortions in his reality, the report states, and impaired inhibitory controls.

With all factors considered, Smelko wrote that Miller would have a limited capacity to follow the law, “despite his ability to appreciate the criminality of his alleged acts” in the alleged crimes.

Larrivee writes that Smelko recommended mood stabilizers, and that Miller has ongoing thoughts of suicide.

The issue of whether or not Miller is mentally competent to assist his defense stems from a defendant’s right to be present at all material stages of the court proceedings, Larrivee writes.

Not all proceedings require his presence, the attorney writes, including the defense’s motion to declare the state’s death penalty laws unconstitutional and various motions to compel discovery.

During his July 8 hearing, Miller spoke quickly and passionately as he told District Court Judge Stewart Stadler about his concerns with confidentiality and the jail psychiatrist.

Miller remains incarcerated at the Flathead County jail without the possibility of bail. His case marks the first time the Flathead County Attorney’s Office has sought capital punishment since 1983.

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