Accused Double Murderer Found Competent for Trial

By Beacon Staff

A Flathead District Court judge found a Kalispell man accused of murdering a woman and her daughter last Christmas to be mentally competent for trial.

Judge Stewart Stadler issued his ruling on Dec. 2, saying Tyler Michael Miller, previously known as Tyler Michael Cheetham, has the ability to understand court proceedings and assist in his defense.

Prosecutors say Miller shot and killed his ex-girlfriend Jaimi Hurlbert, 35, and her daughter, Alyssa Burkett, 15, on Dec. 25, 2010. Miller is charged with deliberate homicide and faces the death penalty.

Stadler’s ruling came after a brief competency hearing on Dec. 2, at which mental health professionals from the Montana State Hospital in Warm Springs testified about the results of an Aug. 30 evaluation of Miller. The facility serves as the only public psychiatric hospital in the state.

According to psychologist John Van Hassel, the evaluation lasted roughly two-and-a-half hours at the Flathead County Detention Center. He told Deputy County Attorney Allison Howard that he found no mental disease or defect that would preclude Miller from understanding court proceedings or prohibit him from assisting in his own defense.

Van Hassel’s conclusions were supported by Dr. Virginia Hill, a psychiatrist at the Montana State Hospital, who testified that she found no mental health reasons that would prevent Miller from participating in or understanding legal proceedings. Hill participated in the Aug. 30 evaluation and also interviewed detention center staff regarding Miller.

Under cross-examination from public defender Nicole Ducheneaux, Van Hassel said mental health evaluations typically occur at the state hospital facility in Warm Springs, where patients stay for about a month and are kept under observation.

Howard asked Van Hassel if he was concerned that Miller’s mental state could have deteriorated in the three months between the evaluation and the Dec. 2 hearing, to which Van Hassel said he was not because there was no mental disease found to begin with.

He also said he is confident in the evaluation’s findings despite not being able to observe Miller at the state hospital. Miller was also on mood stabilizers and anti-psychotic medication for about three weeks prior to the evaluation, Van Hassel said.

Multiple legal motions filed in this case hinged on Miller’s mental competency, Stadler noted, and he urged the attorneys to keep the case progressing since it is scheduled for a March trial.

An evidence suppression hearing should be scheduled soon, the attorneys said.

Miller’s case is the first time the Flathead County Attorney’s Office has sought the death penalty since 1983. County Attorney Ed Corrigan filed his intent to pursue capital punishment in March, citing Miller’s callousness and pride in the murders during his alleged confessions after he was arrested.

Court records state that Miller confessed to killing Hurlbert and Burkett with a .45-caliber pistol. Miller was also allegedly using methamphetamines at the time of the murders, according to court records.