Franklin Curtis quietly pleaded not guilty to the double-murder of his father and brother and to three aggravated assaults in Ravalli County District Court on Wednesday. It was the first time Curtis, who has admitted to committing the crimes six years ago, appeared in court without the cloud of mental illness hanging over his head and hampering his competence to assist in his own defense.
Both Ravalli County Attorney George Corn and public defender Larry Mansch agreed to accept the court-ordered evaluation performed last month at the state hospital at Warm Springs, which found Curtis competent to stand trial.
Curtis was arraigned on two counts of deliberate homicide for the murders of his father, Franklin Richard Curtis, and his brother, Lloyd William Curtis, at the family’s isolated ranch house east of Hamilton in August 1993. Curtis was also charged with two counts of felony assault for allegedly shooting at two other men in the Rye Creek area on the same day as the murders, and for an assault on a jailer while he was incarcerated in the county jail.
Curtis’ bizarre behavior at the time of his arrest eventually sent him to Warm Springs for evaluation and a diagnosis of paranoid schizophrenia. Because he was unable to participate in his own defense, all charges were dropped in 1994.
Eventually Curtis improved and, over a four-year period, went from a locked ward to the open campus and eventually to a group home in Billings where he worked and attended college. When the state hospital notified Ravalli County law enforcement that Curtis was receiving an unconditional release on Aug. 16, 1999, they moved quickly. Charges were re-filed and Curtis was arrested in Billings on Aug. 11.
In court he appeared pale and thin, but was calm and composed during the 10-minute hearing. He answered each question from District Judge Jeffrey Langton with a quiet “Yes, sir” and firmly answered “not guilty” to each charge.
A pre-trial hearing was scheduled for Dec. 15, but Mansch asked the court to schedule a bond-reduction hearing within the next week to allow Curtis to be freed pending resolution of the case.
The most probable outcome, according to courthouse sources, is an eventual plea bargain in which the murder charges will be dropped in return for a guilty plea to the three aggravated assault charges whose victims are still living. Under such an agreement, Curtis will probably receive a 30- to 40-year prison sentence, most of which may be suspended, with Curtis being put on probation for most of his adult life.