Crime

Plea Agreement Calls for Five-Year Prison Term in Killing of Whitefish Man

Xavier Chenault was charged with negligent homicide and accused of causing Steven Speer’s death outside Whitefish bar last summer

By Andy Viano
A Whitefish Police Department car. Beacon File Photo

The Flathead County Attorney’s Office has reached a plea agreement with a 22-year-old man accused of slapping a man in an alley behind a Whitefish bar, a blow that knocked the victim to the ground and led to his death.

Xavier Chenault will plead guilty to one count of negligent homicide, according to a plea agreement filed in Flathead County District Court on Tuesday. In exchange for his plea, prosecutors will recommend that Chenault receive a 15-year sentence at the Montana State Prison with 10 of those years suspended.

Chenault is scheduled to officially enter a guilty plea at a hearing in front of Judge Robert Allison on April 15. Allison will impose a sentence later this year and is not bound by the terms of the agreement.

According to charging documents filed in November, Chenault and another man, Steven Speer, were arguing behind the Whitefish VFW in the early hours of July 30 last year when Chenault struck Speer with an “open-handed slap.” Speer’s head then struck the ground, and when law enforcement arrived they observed “obvious head injuries” and transported him to the hospital. Speer died on Aug. 2.

Chenault initially told officers responding to the VFW that Speer had fallen on his own. In a subsequent text conversation with a witness, Chenault admitted to hitting Speer but added that he “barely touched him.” Security camera footage showed Speer made no attempt to physically engage Chenault before he was knocked down.

Prosecutors waited to charge Chenault until after Speer’s autopsy was completed by the Montana State Crime Lab. The autopsy concluded that Speer “died as a result of blunt force injuries to the head” and determined his blood-alcohol content at the time of his initial treatment was .268, more than three times the legal limit to operate a motor vehicle.

Chenault, whose hometown was listed as Sacramento, California in an arrest warrant, was taken into custody in Flathead County in January. He was extradited here from Arlington, Texas, where Chenault had been incarcerated and charged with evading arrest and resisting arrest.

Chenault could have faced up to 20 years in prison if convicted of negligent homicide.

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