Weeks after rejecting a deal that would have allowed Jason David Weldele to walk out of jail for the first time in nearly five months, a Flathead County judge accepted a revised plea agreement that achieved the same result.
Judge Amy Eddy handed down a 10-year suspended sentence to Weldele on Monday in Flathead County District Court, accepting his plea of no contest to one count of felony criminal endangerment and ending a winding legal journey that began in October when Weldele was charged with deliberate homicide and accused of trapping and killing his father inside a burning home.
In January, prosecutors agreed to drop the deliberate homicide charge and recommend a five-year suspended sentence for Weldele, a deal that was rejected by Eddy last month when she said she would not be bound by the sentencing recommendation. The county attorney’s office then announced they would continue to pursue a case against Weldele, but only for the reduced charge of criminal endangerment.
Monday morning, Eddy was scheduled to consider several motions in the case but notified the attorneys during the hearing that she would now be amenable to accepting a slightly modified plea deal, according to Weldele’s court-appointed attorney, Liam Gallagher. The new plea deal was then agreed upon and Eddy handed down the recommended sentence, releasing Weldele from custody for the first time since the deadly fire.
“He was excited to get out of jail but he was also relieved to put this whole ordeal behind him and begin the grieving process,” Gallagher said.
Weldele was arrested after he was found “acting erratic” outside of a burning residential trailer at Forest Hill Village south of Kalispell around 2 a.m. on Oct. 17. Authorities found his father, 63-year-old Daniel Weldele, dead inside the trailer and noted that the exits to his room appeared to have been barricaded. Daniel Weldele is described as “semi ambulatory” in court documents and could not get around the home without assistance.
Further investigation, however, revealed little evidence supporting the prosecution’s original assertion that Jason Weldele had started the fire and raised significant doubts about what transpired the evening of Oct. 16 and ended early the following morning. The younger Weldele made several 911 calls on Oct. 16, once reporting a fire although no evidence was found at that time and earlier reporting a break-in at the trailer where intruders allegedly installed cameras. Witnesses also came forward to claim “other individuals had started the fire and that others had a motive to burn Jason Weldele’s house,” Deputy County Attorney Amy Kenison wrote in a sentencing memorandum.
Kenison also revealed in court filings that both Weldeles were known methamphetamine users and that an autopsy showed Daniel Weldele had meth in his system at the time of his death. The elder Weldele also was apparently “known to burn imaginary ‘bugs’ on the carpet” when he was using. Jason Weldele was not drug tested after his arrest.
In the last two months, Gallagher has been sharply critical of the prosecution’s approach to this case, especially their decision to charge Weldele with deliberate homicide in October. In his sentencing memorandum, Gallagher wrote that the original affidavit “relies heavily on speculative inferences” and was light on “actual proof.”
In justifying the criminal endangerment charge, Kenison asserted that Weldele did not help his father get out of the burning trailer and that he was the only “physically able” person who could have moved furniture to barricade his father’s room.
If Weldele does not remain law abiding or violates any conditions of his release, he is subject to serve the remainder of his 10-year sentence in custody.
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