Senate president seeks probe of state health department
HELENA, Mont. (AP) — The president of the Montana Senate is asking legislative auditors to investigate the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services.
DPPHS Director Richard Opper says the request is politically motivated and without basis.
Republican Sen. Debby Barrett of Dillon wants Legislative Auditor Angus Maciver to look into allegations of waste, fraud and abuse within the department.
The allegations are based on a September article in the Independent Record newspaper that cited former department staffers as saying employees were discouraged from investigating questionable payments made by the state’s welfare program, to department contractors and money that may have been diverted to other programs.
Opper said Thursday the allegations are inaccurate and it’s disheartening that Barrett would want to use tax dollars to fuel baseless political attacks.
Fairview man found guilty of killing Kalispell woman
KALISPELL, Mont. (AP) — A Fairview man has been convicted of deliberate homicide in the Valentine’s Day 2013 death of his girlfriend, whose body has not been found.
The Flathead Beacon reports a Richland County jury on Thursday found Cody Wayne Johnston guilty of killing 31-year-old Nicole Waller of Kalispell. Court officials say a sentencing date has not been set.
Johnston was charged with Waller’s murder in August 2015.
Charging documents said Johnston and Waller had an on-again, off-again relationship and that on the day she disappeared she called family members to say they had broken up and she was returning to Kalispell. Her vehicle was found abandoned near Poplar.
Investigators said evidence suggests Johnston killed Waller and disposed of her body in a barrel, then asked a friend to help him move her vehicle about 70 miles away to Poplar.
Man gets 100 years for abusing kids at mother’s day care
BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — A 40-year-old man who admitted to assaulting several children at a Billings day care has been sentenced to 100 years in prison.
The Billings Gazette reports that Jared Addison Terhune was sentenced Thursday after pleading guilty to 12 sex abuse charges, including sexual intercourse without consent.
Terhune is accused of assaulting five children, ages 2 to 13, while they were at Sunshine Daycare, which was owned by his mother and closed in August 2014.
Court documents say Terhune would sometimes supervise the children when his mom wasn’t present.
Terhune’s attorney argued for a shorter sentence. But the judge said he couldn’t determine whether Terhune could be reintegrated into society, saying the harm he caused is “simply incalculable and horrendous.”
Terhune apologized for his actions at his Thursday sentencing.
The Latest: Jury finds Wittal guilty in fatal stabbing
KALISPELL, Mont. (AP) — Robert Wittal dropped his head and began to cry after a jury convicted him of deliberate homicide in a drug-related stabbing death in Flathead County.
The 29-year-old Wittal was accused of killing Wade Rautio on May 26. Rautio’s body was found in a creek east of Creston.
Prosecutors argued Wittal was carrying out the role of enforcer for a drug dealer who believed the 35-year-old Rautio had stolen from her.
Wittal faces 10 to 100 years in prison. His sentencing hearing is scheduled for Jan. 17.
Deputy County Attorney Andrew Clegg said three co-defendants still face trial in the case, adding: “We’re not done yet.”
Barry Beach under more strict monitoring
BOZEMAN, Mont. (AP) — A convicted murderer who was granted clemency last November is under increased probation restrictions after he reportedly sexually propositioned a 12-year-old girl.
Department of Corrections spokeswoman Judy Beck told the Bozeman Daily Chronicle that the intensity of Barry Beach’s supervision increased in January, soon after the girl’s mother went to police. Additional restrictions went into effect on Oct. 5, weeks after Billings prosecutors determined there was not enough evidence to file charges.
Beach now has to wear a GPS monitor, has increased travel restrictions and has a curfew, and must report to his probation officer at least three times per month.
Beach served more than 30 years of a 100-year prison term for the 1979 murder of Kimberly Nees in Poplar. He has maintained his innocence.
Clancy man dies after car crashes into pond
HELENA, Mont. (AP) — A 33-year-old man died when a car crashed into a pond about three miles southwest of Helena.
Lewis and Clark County Coroner Bryan Backeberg tells the Independent Record that Joseph Smietanka of Clancy died in the crash at about 7 p.m. Wednesday.
The Montana Highway Patrol says the car was southbound on Dry Gulch Road when the driver failed to negotiate a right hand curve and drove into Cox Lake.
A 32-year-old Helena woman was able to escape the vehicle and report the crash. Trooper Mike Zufelt says she was taken to the hospital for treatment of signs of hypothermia.
Smietanka’s body was recovered from the car, which came to rest in 10 to 15 feet of water. The car was pulled out of the water on Thursday.