Convicted murderer found guilty of attempted escape

Billings, Montana (AP) 9-07

A Crow Agency man who pleaded guilty to stabbing a boy to death at a graduation party was found guilty September 17th of attempted escape for kicking out the window of a van while on his way to be sentenced in the murder case.

The U.S. District Court jury deliberated one hour September 17th before finding Mitchell J. Chandler, 24, guilty.

Chandler slipped out of his waist chain and kicked out a side window of a van that was transporting six federal prisoners to Billings from Basin, Wyo., on Jan. 11, 2006. The escape attempt happened on U.S. 310 shortly after the van entered Montana.

Chandler was on his way to U.S. District Court to be sentenced for second-degree murder for killing Paul Dexter Morning Jr., 17, in 2004. Chandler pleaded guilty to stabbing Morning while at a high school graduation party on the Crow Reservation. Morning was a popular wrestler at Skyview High School in Billings.

Chandler was halfway out of the van window when a Big Horn County, Wyo., detention officer pulled her gun and threatened to shoot if he didn’t return to his seat. Chandler obeyed.

During the two-day escape trial, Chandler’s attorney, Sol Neuhardt, argued that Chandler was depressed and was trying to commit suicide, not escape, when he broke out the window.

“Where was he going to go?” Neuhardt asked in closing arguments. Still wearing cuffs on his hands and legs, “the best he can do is walk a mile an hour – tops,” he said.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Ryan Archer argued that Chandler was trying to get the van to stop, noting it had just driven out of radio contact. Archer suggested Chandler could have used his waist chain as a weapon and noted that the six prisoners in the van outnumbered the two transport deputies.

“He was going to go anywhere but custody,” he said.

U.S. District Judge Richard Cebull set sentencing for Dec. 13. Chandler faces a maximum five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. Chandler already is serving 171/2 years in prison for killing Morning. Cebull increased the murder sentence after finding that Chandler obstructed justice by trying to escape.

Information from: Billings Gazette,