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Gold Creek suspect pleads insanity

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Douglas Allan Zander, accused of fatally shooting another man last summer at a rest stop between Missoula and Butte, will seek a mental disease or defect defense in the case, court records show.

Zander, 26, of Mandan, N.D., also won’t face the death penalty if he’s convicted of the crime, which documents indicate was racially motivated.

Spokane resident David Solomon, an African American, was shot to death the evening of June 29 at the east-bound Gold Creek rest stop along Interstate 90. Solomon’s wife and other witnesses said the shooting was done by a young white man driving a small red car with North Dakota license plates. Solomon, 47, was hit in the chest and died at the scene. Zander, in possession of an 8 mm Mauser rifle, was later arrested south of Helena in his 1986 Ford Mustang.

An affidavit filed by Powell County Attorney Chris Miller and Assistant Attorney General John Conner Jr. states that Zander told investigators he had seen a “black guy” at the rest stop and had shot the man from the window of his car. The prosecutors contend Zander shot Solomon, who was with his white wife and one of their children, “in effect, because he was black.” Solomon and his family were moving to Arizona when the shooting occurred.

Zander’s attorney, Wendy Holton of Helena, recently filed notice that her client will defend himself on the grounds that he is mentally ill. A psychiatric evaluation is to be conducted by Dr. William Stratford of Missoula on Dec. 6-7. Zander, charged with deliberate homicide, is being held without bond in the Powell County Jail in Deer Lodge. He pleaded innocent to the charge in July and his trial is set to begin Feb. 28.

In an application for court-appointed counsel, Zander said his last job was at a North Dakota restaurant, where he earned $3.25 an hour and worked 25 hours a week. He said his assets totaled $2,100, while he had incurred a debt of nearly $3,000 in recent loans, credit card bills and phone bills. He studied music at Bismarck State College until late May and apparently traveled to Seattle after a relative died. Police say Zander’s vehicle was packed with personal possessions when he was arrested.

Miller says Montana law calls for “aggravating circumstances” to be present if the death penalty is to be imposed in a murder case. Such circumstances, among others, include ambushing, kidnapping or raping the victim, committing murder while in detention, being previously convicted of murder, or conducting torture.

“We really didn’t see where the state could clearly establish any of the aggravating circumstances,” Miller says. “We really don’t have any evidence that an ambush happened.”

Nonetheless, Zander could face life in prison if convicted. Additional time could be added if the state proves the shooting was indeed based on Solomon’s race.

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