The Colorado man serving a 100-year sentence for killing a Sidney teacher six years ago now faces a new charge after prosecutors say he and another inmate tried to kill a third inmate in 2016.
Michael Keith Spell was charged in February in Powell County District Court with attempted deliberate homicide. The second inmate, Thomas Creel Lanham, was also charged in February with the same crime.
Lanham and Spell tried to kill James Marshall in his cell on the morning of April 18, 2016, charges state. The two had discussed plans for the attack the night before, according to a Department of Corrections investigator who interviewed another inmate. The men said they’d “go all the way,” according to charges.
Lanham and Marshall had argued the day before the attack.
Lanham and Spell came into Marshall’s cell the next morning and Spell grabbed Marshall from behind, putting him in a chokehold and wrapping his legs around him to restrict his movement, according to charges. Lanham then hit Marshall with a lock until Marshall lost consciousness.
Lanham then used the intercom to call a correctional officer and tell him that “we just killed this guy,” charges state. He insisted he was serious and that an officer respond, and when one did, he found Lanham and Spell in the cell with their hands behind their backs and arrested them.
Marshall’s cell had significant amounts of blood on the floor, walls, toilet and sink, and Marshall was bleeding from the head and gasping for air.
Medical staff found Marshall’s face bloody and swollen with numerous lacerations, his jaw appeared deformed and several teeth were missing. Later at the Deer Lodge hospital he was found to have two broken ribs, broken orbital and nasal bones, and was referred to a plastic surgeon.
Marshall told hospital staff he’d been held down and choked by one inmate while another used a lock tied to the end of a rope to hit him in the face.
Lanham made various statements to prison staff that Marshall deserved to die and that Lanham hoped he would after being taken to the hospital, according to charges.
No trial has yet been set for Spell or Lanham.
Spell was sentenced in 2015 to 100 years in prison for murdering Sidney teacher Sherry Arnold.
Spell, in cooperation with another man, tried to abduct the popular math teacher while she was jogging near her home in 2012. A struggle ensued and Arnold was choked. Her body was found months later buried in a shallow grave in a rural area near Williston, North Dakota.
Spell and his co-defendant, Lester Van Waters Jr., had traveled to the Bakken to look for work in the days before Arnold’s killing.
Lanham is serving 100 years for a rape conviction out of Flathead County in 1997.
Marshall, who was serving time for assault on a peace officer and criminal endangerment out of Hill County, was released on parole in Havre in July 2017.