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Court records: New Meadows murder suspect was not legally allowed to have a gun

While he was required to surrender his license to carry, he was apparently not required to surrender any actual firearms, according to Clark County court records.

NEW MEADOWS, Idaho — Why did the suspect in the New Meadows double murder, John Cody Hart, have a gun if he was charged with a violent felony? Why did Hart have a gun if he was deemed mentally incompetent to stand trial for those charges? And why was he in Idaho if he was on supervised release in Washington?

Those are some of the questions KTVB set out to answer through hundreds of pages of court documents obtained from Clark County, Washington.

One of those documents was a forensic evaluation competency report, in which a psychologist wrote Hart was diagnosed with schizophrenia and a marijuana use disorder. Records show Hart was also an Army veteran.

Court documents show Hart first got out of jail when he made bail right after he was arrested on two assault charges in August 2021. He was let out again this past July when a judge ruled he was waiting too long for a bed to open up in the state psychiatric hospital, Western State Hospital, for competency restoration.

When he was let out the judge put Hart on "intensive" supervised pre-trial release, according to records. Among other conditions, that meant every other week he had to check in with pre-trial release services in person. 

Court documents show he didn't contact pre-trial after he got out of jail in July. Court minute entries show he did, however, apparently attend his competency review hearings in August and September.

Under his release conditions set by Clark County Superior Court Judge Robert Lewis, Hart wasn't allowed to travel outside southwest Washington unless approved by the court.

But last weekend he was in Idaho, where he's suspected of shooting and killing Hartland Inn owners Rory and Sara Mehen.

Detectives say Hart admitted to shooting the couple with a Glock.

KTVB learned on Thursday, he wasn't legally allowed to have guns. Court documents show Judge Lewis prohibited Hart from having guns more than once. Washington law states if a person violates those orders they could face penalties, including arrest or even another charge.

When Judge Lewis ordered Hart to Western State Hospital for competency restoration in mid-March, he again ordered Hart not to have firearms and to "immediately surrender any concealed pistol license".

While he was required to surrender his license to carry, he was apparently not required to surrender any actual firearms, according to Clark County court records.

Washington gun rights attorney Vitaliy Kertchen looked over the Clark County Superior Court records from Hart's assault case.

He said this may be an "oversight in Washington state law". Kertchen said a separate statute in Washington allows a court to order someone to surrender firearms for a number of reasons. 

He thinks the Clark County Superior Court could have done that in this case, but didn't - perhaps because the prosecutor did not ask for it.

Both Hart's defense attorneys and Judge Lewis said they could not comment on the situation or answer our questions about how and when Hart obtained the gun he allegedly used in the Mehen murders, because his case in Washington is still active.

Adams County Sheriff Ryan Zollman said Thursday that law enforcement does not know how long Hart was in Idaho before the alleged shooting. At this time, they also do not know of any contacts or connections he had to Idaho.

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