I-90 murder case takes a legal twist 

A legal Catch-22 may cause further delays in the upcoming trial of accused rest stop killer Douglas Allan Zander.

Zander, 27, is charged with one count of deliberate homicide in connection with last summer’s shooting of Spokane resident David Solomon at an I-90 rest stop between Missoula and Butte.

Zander, of Mandan, N.D., has been held without bond in the Powell County Jail since the night of the Gold Creek shooting, which authorities say was apparently triggered by the fact that Solomon was African-American. Prosecutors contend Zander was allegedly upset because a former girlfriend was “taken over by a black man.” The case was originally set for trial in February, but jury selection was moved to April 10 after defense attorney Wendy Holton of Helena said her client would likely argue he was mentally ill or otherwise incapacitated at the time of the crime. The defense decree set off a series of related developments, including a psychiatric exam of Zander by Dr. William Stratford of Missoula.

Holton, however, is arguing that the state’s mental disease or defect law is unconstitutional because it forces defendants to prove they were mentally unfit, and then places the burden on the state to disprove the defense. In its current state, Holton says, the law violates a defendant’s right to due process, as well as their full right to a trial by jury.

At issue, Holton maintains, are legislative changes made to the mental disease or defect law in 1979, when Montana abolished its traditional insanity defense. Because the current law is allegedly unjust, she wants the original law to govern jurors if Zander’s case does, in fact, go to trial.

To prove deliberate homicide cases in Montana, prosecutors must show that a defendant acted “purposefully and knowingly.” Typical mental-incapacity defenses maintain that the accused did not or could not know what they were doing. In response briefs, Powell County Attorney Chris Miller and Assistant Attorney General John Connor Jr. say Holton’s contentions are faulty because “due process requires that the prosecution prove every element of the charged offense beyond a reasonable doubt, including mental state if it is an element of the crime.”

District Court Judge Ted Mizner has not yet issued a ruling on the arguments, which could send the case headlong to the Montana Supreme Court before Zander’s innocence or guilt is decided.

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