Judge to decide if murder suspect fit for trial

MATTHEW BROWN Associated Press Published:

SIDNEY, Mont. (AP) -- Starkly different images of a Colorado man charged with killing a teacher in Montana's oil patch have emerged from a hearing to determine whether the suspect is fit for trial.

Prosecutors cast 24-year-old Michael Keith Spell as a manipulative if mentally challenged conniver, eager to reduce his punishment by playing up his intellectual disability.

Defense experts describe Spell as easily confused and prone to forget facts within minutes. They say that leaves him unable to meaningfully participate in the complex murder case he faces for the alleged killing of 43-year-old Sherry Arnold.

After two days of testimony, Montana District Judge Richard Simonton said Tuesday he'll rule soon on whether Spell is fit for trial.

If convicted in Arnold's January 2012 murder, Spell could face the death sentence.

An accomplice pleaded guilty in a deal with prosecutors.