McWhorter pleads not guilty to Evanston murders 'by reason of mental illness'

EVANSTON — Michelle Lee McWhorter pleaded “not guilty by reason of mental illness,” and the alternative plea of “not guilty,” at her arraignment Thursday morning. She is charged with murdering two Evanston residents in September 2016, among other crimes.

McWhorter appeared calm as she walked into district court wearing a rosary and ankle cuffs. She occasionally looked into the audience while her public defender, Kent Brown, conferred briefly with county attorney and prosecutor Loretta R. Howieson. 

Before listing the charges, Judge Joseph Bluemel asked McWhorter if she was competent to stand trial. She stated that she has a mental illness but is being treated for it and that she understood what was going on. 

Bluemel clarified that McWhorter waived her preliminary hearing, and she stood by her earlier decision. He then listed her Constitutional rights before detailing the six charges she is facing. 

McWhorter is accused of two counts of first-degree murder: of killing, purposefully and with premeditated malice, Christina L. Caves between the dates of Sept. 1 and Sept. 16, 2016, and Dean L. Corlett between the dates of Sept. 15 and Sept. 26, 2016. 

A first-degree murder conviction could bring the death penalty, life imprisonment without parole, or life imprisonment, as well as a fine of up to $10,000. Bluemel said that if the State of Wyoming pursues the death penalty in the case of a conviction, there would be a separate hearing to determine whether that is appropriate. 

McWhorter is also accused of remaining in Caves’ residence and in Corlett’s residence with the intent to commit theft (two charges). Bluemel asked Howieson about the justification for the original “aggravated” charge attached to the case, to which Howieson said that word was likely a typo and should be removed. Bluemel amended both charges.

If McWhorter is convicted of the amended theft charges, she could be imprisoned for up to 10 years for each and fined up to $10,000. 

Finally, McWhorter is charged with two counts of burglary from Caves’ and Corlett’s residences, specifically with taking property valued at less than $1,000 from each. These charges, if McWhorter is convicted of committing them, come with a maximum penalty of 6 months in prison and a fine of up to $750. 

All told, four of the six charges are felonies. Each conviction would also be accompanied by a crime victims compensation fine as well as other possible court costs.

Bluemel summarized the maximum possible penalty if McWhorter is convicted of all six charges, saying she could be sentenced to death or for two life sentences (with or without parole) plus 21 years and up to $41,500 in fines.

Upon listing the possible penalties, Bluemel commented that McWhorter’s eyebrows rose at the extent of the potential fine. 

He then added that, if she is convicted of any crime, she could be ordered to pay restitution for damages and to reimburse the public defender’s office. Any felony convictions would also result in stripped rights to vote, carry firearms, hold public office and other penalties. 

As proceedings continued, McWhorter’s answers to Bluemel’s questions became more subdued although no less certain. However, before asking for the plea, Bluemel asked if McWhorter has been satisfied with Brown’s representation, to which she answered emphatically, “Oh, yes.” 

She then entered a plea of not guilty and not guilty by reason of mental illness on all six counts. 

Upon this plea, Bluemel said that the court will enter an order to have McWhorter evaluated. In the meantime, McWhorter will return to the Wyoming State Hospital, where Howieson said McWhorter has been housed.

Caves and Corlett were found dead several days apart in their Evanston homes last September. According to court documents, McWhorter gave detailed accounts of the crimes to investigators and allegedly confessed to both murders while she was in custody in February for unrelated charges. 

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