Supreme Court Denies Appeal from House Thief

By Beacon Staff

POLSON – The Montana Supreme Court rejected an appeal filed by a man who is serving a 10-year prison term for trying to steal a $400,000 house in foreclosure by breaking in, changing the locks and filing paperwork in Lake County saying he bought the house from “the creator, Yahweh.”

Brent Arthur Wilson, who insisted on serving as his own attorney dozens of times during court appearances, argued in his appeal that he never should have been allowed to represent himself.

The Supreme Court rejected that argument, and two others Wilson made, the Missoulian reported Thursday.

“Though we acknowledge that Wilson’s demeanor with the District Court was unconventional and at times somewhat bizarre, the fact remains that he was found by a mental health evaluator to be mentally capable of making decisions and fit to proceed and act on his own behalf,” Justice Patricia Cotter wrote in Wednesday’s ruling.

The ruling said the judge “was placed in the difficult position of balancing Wilson’s constitutional right to counsel with his right to represent himself,” Cotter wrote. “We conclude the District Court did everything in its power to persuade Wilson to accept counsel, without unduly pressuring him to do so in possible violation of his right to represent himself.”

Wilson, 54, presented no defense and didn’t cross examine any prosecution witnesses during his trial last summer on charges of felony theft, deceptive practices and tampering with public records.

Wilson insisted on addressing District Judge Kim Christopher by her given first name of Deborah, he refused to stand when she entered the room and repeatedly said: “For the record, on the record, let the record show I have no constitutional rights, I want no constitutional rights, I claim no constitutional rights.”

Wilson’s appeal, filed by Great Falls attorney Joseph P. Howard, argues: “The record is replete with examples wherein Wilson’s behavior clearly demonstrated he was not competent to exercise his Sixth Amendment” right to represent himself.

“We rejected Wilson’s suggestion that we should, via hindsight, determine that because he did not present a competent defense at trial he obviously abused his right to represent himself,” the decision said. “As the state correctly notes, one’s competence to decide to represent himself is not dependent upon his having the skill and experience of a lawyer.”

The Supreme Court also rejected Wilson’s claim that the 10-year sentence was illegal and alternatives to imprisonment were not adequately considered.

Stay Connected with the Daily Roundup.

Sign up for our newsletter and get the best of the Beacon delivered every day to your inbox.