By Alan Sorensen
In a surprise court appearance this morning, double-murder suspect Reid Danell pleaded guilty to deliberate homicide in the shooting deaths of Kristi Walker and Kevin Caplette last September.
Danell, 18, admitted in court today that he shot Walker, 30, and Caplette, 35, to death during the early morning hours of an all-night party at a home in the 1200 block of Sixth Street on Sept. 16, 1999. The victims' bodies were found at the home shortly before 1 p.m. the same day.
Danell's lawyers, Robert M. Peterson of Havre and Francis McCarvel of Glasgow, reached the plea agreement with Hill County prosecutors late Friday afternoon. The motion for a change of plea was filed in the Hill County Clerk of Court's Office early this morning and a hearing on the motion was held before 12th Judicial District Court Judge John Warner shortly after 11 a.m.
Under questioning by the judge, Danell said he was not under the influence of either drugs or alcohol at the time of the shootings and that Walker and Caplette both died because of the gun shots he fired. He said he was satisfied with both of his lawyers and that he was in no way induced to plead guilty.
"We have assessed all the evidence that exists in the case (and that is) one of the factors that led to his decision in this case," Peterson said.
After Warner was satisfied that Danell made the admissions of his own accord and accepted the pleas, Danell asked to speak.
Both mothers broke down in tears when Danell turned to the families of the two victims and said, " I'm so sorry for what happened."
Danell had entered an innocent plea during his arraignment on Nov. 17, 1999, two counts of deliberate homicide by application of the felony murder rule, two counts of intimidation by accountability, one count of tampering with evidence, and car theft. His jury trial had been scheduled for May 22.
Danell's motion last week to postpone the trial was denied by 12th Judicial District Court Judge John Warner.
Peterson contended in his petition for a continuance filed May 5 that two anonymous Crimestoppers tips just three days after the murder could lead to lesser charges against his client. Peterson was first informed of the calls on May 2, the same day that police forwarded the information to the Hill County Attorney.
Peterson said that he hoped, given more time, to discover more evidence "which could lead to the lesser crime of mitigated homicide." He contended that the charge of deliberate homicide against his client might be lowered to mitigated homicide or even negligent homicide if it turned out that Danell was ordered by drug dealers to kill Walker and Caplette.
Warner ruled that the defense had had nearly seven months since Danell was charged to build its defense of a murder committed eight months ago.
Danell said he understood that by pleading guilty to the felony murder charges he forfeited his right to a trial and to any appeal of sentence.
As part of the agreement, the state declined to charge Danell with an offense in the March 11 stabbing of a fellow inmate at the Hill County Detention Center. Danell allegedly borrowed a pencil from the victim and then stabbed him in the eye. The victim was taken to a Great Falls hospital. He was returned to the Havre jail upon his recovery to await extradition out of state.
Warner did explain, however, that the prosecution does have the right to submit evidence of that assault as part of its argument concerning what sentence it feels Danell should receive.
Warner ordered a presentence investigation and set sentencing for 1:30 p.m. June 29. Warner told Danell that he was not bound by the plea agreement and that Danell could be sentenced to life in prison or from 10 to 100 years on each count and that Danell could be ordered to serve the sentences consecutively. The sentences also would carry fees and surcharges.
Jacob Gary Spang, 18, and his sister, Francine Spang, 16, are charged with the same offenses as Danell. The trial for Jacob Spang, 18, is set for June 5, and Francine Spang, 16, is scheduled for trial on June 19.
Danell is on the prosecution's list of witnesses in those two cases and is subject to subpoena to testify in both cases. Warner cautioned Danell that should he be called to testify, he would be subject to perjury charges if he were found to be untruthful in his testimony.