A state judge in Glendive has accepted jurisdiction in the aggravated-kidnapping cases against two Colorado men accused of abducting and killing Sidney schoolteacher Sherry Arnold.
In an order filed Wednesday, District Judge Richard Simonton assumed the cases against Lester Van Waters Jr. and Michael Keith Spell.
Simonton agreed to preside over the criminal cases at the request of Judge Katherine Irigoin, who was asked to remove herself from the case by defense attorneys.
Attorneys can make a single request for a new judge in a criminal case without stating a reason. That step was taken by public defenders Randi Hood and Cynthia Thornton last week when their clients were arraigned. Thornton represents Waters, and Hood represents Spell.
Irigoin and Simonton are the only two district court judges serving in the judicial district that covers the counties of Richland, Dawson, McCone, Prairie and Wibaux.
Waters and Spell are accused of abducting Arnold on Jan. 7 after driving from Colorado to find work in the North Dakota oilfields. Arnold was reported missing after she left for an early morning run and did not return.
Based on statements attributed to Spell, authorities believe the two men killed Arnold and buried her body in a shallow grave outside Williston, N.D. Her body has not been found.
At an arraignment last week, Irigoin set separate trial dates for both men in July.
Aggravated kidnapping carries a possible death sentence. Authorities have not announced whether they intend to seek that punishment in the case. Messages left for Richland County Attorney Michael Weber by The Billings Gazette have not been returned.
Prosecutors have 60 days after a defendant is arraigned to file a notice of intent that the death penalty will be sought in a criminal case.