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Documents show possible motive of New Meadows suspect, prosecutor seeks death penalty

An affidavit says that the double-murder suspect, John Cody Hart, told a detective that he was upset the couple "thought he was a thief."

Court records are providing more clarity on what could have happened before 47-year-old Rory Mehen and 45-year-old Sara Mehen were shot and killed at the Hartland Inn in New Meadows on Oct. 1 --  and prosecutors have filed to seek the death penalty.

John Cody Hart was identified as the suspect who allegedly shot and killed the couple, after he was found not competent to stand trial for assault charges in Washington. Hart was awaiting admittance to Western State Hospital, Washington's psychiatric hospital, if and when a bed opened up.

RELATED: New Meadows murder suspect had violent criminal record in Washington, mental health issues

On that Saturday, around 12:45 p.m., police responded to reports of an active shooter -- they rushed in to the hotel to find the couple, who owned the hotel, dead in the main office.

According to an affidavit, Hart told Washington County detective Jordan Doggett that he had gone through drawers in rooms inside the inn, looking for socks that he thought belonged to his children. At that time, a man and a woman asserted to him that he could not be going through other residents' rooms.

"John told us they then snatched everything from his hands, making him feel like a thief. They then called the cops," the affidavit said. "John stated that this made him angry, that it caused him pain, and that he felt the couple were like Bonnie and Clyde."

RELATED: Town of New Meadows mourns couple killed in Hartland Inn shooting

The affidavit says call records show a deputy was called to the inn where he spoke with Hart and cleared the hotel at 12:20 p.m. The 911 call of shots fired came in 24 minutes later, at 12:45 p.m.

Before the shots rang out, the affidavit says Hart went back to this room after the socks were taken from him and "prepared for the worst."

"He then heard Pope Gregory and John Paul say, 'are you going to let Bonnie and Clyde do that to our family,'" the affidavit says. "John told me that he didn't spite those people, and that they still have life in their soul, not in their flesh."

The document says that Hart then told detectives he went to the front counter and shot the man and woman. 

RELATED: New Meadows community honors innkeepers murdered on Saturday

The affidavit said there is probable cause to believe that Hart murdered the two in the first-degree -- "these actions took ample time," the document said.

The prosecuting attorney for Adams County filed to seek the death penalty in this case, where they said "the murder was especially heinous," that Hart "exhibited utter disregard for human life," and that Hart could "probably constitute a continuing threat to society."

Hart is being held without bail until his next hearing. A status conference is set for Oct. 17.

Hart's case in Washington

KTVB filed a public records request with the superior court in Clark County, Washington, where Hart was charged with felony assault in August of 2021, to obtain a recording of the hearing in which a judge let Hart out of jail.

An evaluation found Hart wasn't competent to stand trial for his assault charges. Judge Robert Lewis entered a competency restoration order for a 90-day restoration at Western State Hospital, the state psychiatric hospital, on March 17,

Hart was waiting in jail until a bed opened up; 127 days after the judge's order, he still sat in jail.

Hart, his attorney and the prosecution appeared in front of Judge Lewis via video conference in the July 22, 2022 review hearing on Hart's competency. 

In this hearing, the defense asked Hart be let out because he was assaulted in jail and was waiting too long to get transported to Western State Hospital.

The lead prosecutor tried for months to get Hart into the hospital, but told KTVB this week that a bed wasn't open. 

In this July hearing, another prosecutor told the judge they expected Hart to be transported just days after this hearing, on Aug. 1. They asked the judge to push this matter back until then to see if Hart did in fact get admitted.

The judge, however, sided with the defense.

"The court has reviewed this matter extensively at request of the defense and given the state ample opportunity both from local representatives and from the State of Washington to provide an explanation as to why - despite repeated dates when they indicated he would be transported - Mr. Hart has not been transported for competency restoration," Judge Lewis said. "His motion to dismiss is denied. His motion to release is granted. He'll be released on supervised release."

"I do this with some reluctance as the charges against Mr. Hart are very serious," the judge told Hart, his defense and the prosecution, "He's charged with a Class-A felony: assault in the first degree. Apparently, however, the seriousness of his charges is not sufficient for the state to place a priority upon his competency restoration. I simply can't continue to hold him on the expectation that maybe someday they'll come pick him up."

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