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Tuesday, December 5, 2023
Dec. 5, 2023

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Suspect in Idaho killings had been released from Clark County Jail while awaiting bed at Western State Hospital

Prosecutor files notice he'll seek death penalty

By , Columbian staff reporter
2 Photos
Sara Mehen, 45, left, and Rory Mehen, 47, were fatally shot Saturday at the Hartland Inn in New Meadows, Idaho. Authorities say they were killed by John Cody Hart, 28, who was released in July from the Clark County Jail while he awaited competency restoration services in a local assault case.
Sara Mehen, 45, left, and Rory Mehen, 47, were fatally shot Saturday at the Hartland Inn in New Meadows, Idaho. Authorities say they were killed by John Cody Hart, 28, who was released in July from the Clark County Jail while he awaited competency restoration services in a local assault case. (Contributed photo) Photo Gallery

A man accused of murdering an Idaho couple Saturday was released in July from the Clark County Jail after months of awaiting competency restoration services at Western State Hospital.

John Cody Hart, 28, is charged in Adams County Magistrate Court in Idaho with two counts of first-degree murder. Authorities say he fatally shot husband and wife Rory Mehen, 47, and Sara Mehen, 45, the owners of the Hartland Inn in New Meadows, Idaho, where he was apparently staying.

Adams County Prosecutor Christopher Boyd filed notice that he intends to seek the death penalty if Hart is convicted of the charges.

Hart was on supervised release at the time of the shooting in his pending Clark County case, and he was not permitted to leave the area.

He was charged in August 2021 in Clark County Superior Court with one count each of first- and second-degree assault. A probable cause affidavit in that case states Hart was transient in Vancouver. His bail was set at $100,000, but it was later raised to $150,000 after he had posted bond and failed to appear at a hearing, court records show.

Clark County sheriff’s deputies responded at 1:11 a.m. Aug. 9, 2021, to 9411 N.E. 76th St., for reports of an assault. An employee at the 7-Eleven said a man came into the convenience store injured, according to the affidavit.

Deputies spoke to the victim’s roommate, who said they met Hart on the dating app Grinder, and they invited him over. The roommate said Hart attacked the victim, pressing his thumbs into the man’s eyes. He said he was able to get Hart off of the victim, and Hart left. The victim said he was sleeping when the attack started, according to the affidavit.

Surveillance video captured Hart walking inside the men’s residence and saying nothing to the victim before putting him into a vascular neck restraint, court records state. Hart can then be seen wrapping his legs around the man’s midsection, causing them to fall onto the couch. Hart continued to apply pressure to the neck restraint, until the man went limp. Then, Hart punched him in the face, the affidavit says.

A nurse said the victim was likely to lose his vision, the affidavit states.

In September 2021, a state evaluator found Hart was competent to stand trial, although the doctor diagnosed him with schizophrenia and cannabis use disorder. His defense attorney then sought a second opinion, according to court records.

In March, the defense and prosecuting attorney in the case agreed to a finding that Hart was incompetent to stand trial, and a judge ordered he be sent to Western State Hospital for competency restoration, court records state.

After months of waiting for space to open up at the state hospital, Hart’s defense attorney filed a motion to dismiss the charges against him. The attorney argued the time Hart had been held in jail waiting for a hospital bed violated his due process rights.

In response to the motion to dismiss, Senior Deputy Prosecutor Luka Vitasovic argued Hart was being held in jail because he hadn’t posted bail, not because he was awaiting a hospital bed.

“The community does not need somebody suffering from untreated mental illness out committing unprovoked serious violent offenses,” Vitasovic wrote to the court.

Judge Robert Lewis denied the motion to dismiss but ordered on July 22 that Hart be placed on supervised release until a bed was available for him. At the time, Hart had a tentative bed date of Aug. 1, court records show.

Lewis declined to comment Wednesday on his decision because the case is pending.

Court records indicate that when Hart got out of jail, he never checked in with Clark County Pretrial Release. He is scheduled for a competency status hearing today.

An emailed statement from the Department of Social and Health Services, which oversees Western State Hospital, states that DSHS and its state and private partners “have implemented numerous efforts in recent years to improve and shorten wait times for those in need of competency services, but rising referral numbers, staffing shortages and the pandemic have contributed to an increase in these challenges. We are in the midst of building new facilities while also exploring new ways to increase bed capacity as the demand for competency services continues to rise.”

Idaho shooting

At 12:42 p.m. Saturday, Adams County sheriff’s deputies received reports of an active shooter at the Hartland Inn. Deputies, along with Idaho State Police, McCall City Police and medical personnel, arrived to find the Mehens dead inside the main office, according to a news release.

Investigators identified Hart as the suspected shooter, and he was seen leaving the hotel in a blue Subaru, the news release states. A short time later, an off-duty officer spotted Hart’s Subaru. Officers pulled Hart over and arrested him without incident.

After Hart was booked into jail in Idaho, officers said he admitted to shooting a man and a woman at the Hartland Inn. Hart said the motel’s owners confronted him after he was found searching through drawers for socks in other guests’ rooms, according to Adams County court records.

Hart said the couple snatched everything from his hands, making him feel like a thief, an Adams County probable cause affidavit states.

The couple called police; a deputy responded and talked to Hart. He said that made him angry, and he felt like the couple was “like Bonnie and Clyde.” He told officers, “after the sock incident he went back into his room and prepared for the worst,” the affidavit says.

He said he heard multiple voices saying, “Are you going to let Bonnie and Clyde do that to our family?” the affidavit reads.

Investigators said Hart then told them he went to the front counter and shot the couple.

Court records state the 911 call about the shooting came in 24 minutes after the deputy left the motel.

Detectives found two spent 9 mm shell casings at the shooting scene. They also found a 9 mm Glock handgun where Hart told them he threw it, in weeds near a church in Indian Valley, Idaho, court records state.

In his notice to seek the death penalty, Boyd listed aggravating circumstances, including that the double homicide was “especially heinous, atrocious or cruel, manifesting exceptional depravity,” and that Hart will “probably constitute a continuing threat to society.”

Hart’s next Idaho court date is scheduled for Oct. 17.

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