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Californian pleads guilty to killing Whitefish man

Hagadone News Network | April 7, 2021 12:18 PM

A California man accused in the beating death of a Whitefish man last summer has struck a deal to plead guilty to the offense.

According to court documents, Xavier J. Chenault, 22, of Sacramento, California, signed a binding plea agreement April 6 negotiated by his public defender Daniel Wood and Flathead County Attorney Travis Ahner.

In exchange for pleading guilty to one felony count of negligent homicide in the death of 25-year-old Steven Speer, Chenault is facing a 15-year sentence to the Montana State Prison with 10 years suspended.

Chenault also would receive credit for the time he has served since being lodged in the Flathead County Detention Center Jan. 3 after being arrested in Texas in November for resisting arrest.

The homicide charge was filed Nov. 18 in Flathead County District Court.

Chenault is scheduled to appear in court at 9 a.m. Thursday, April 15, for the change of plea hearing in front of District Judge Robert Allison, who must OK the agreement.

According to previous information from Whitefish Police Chief Bill Dial, Speer died Aug. 2, 2020, of head injuries he suffered during an altercation shortly after midnight July 30, in the parking lot of the VFW Bar and Grill on Baker Avenue.

Whitefish Police officers responded to the scene for a report of an unconscious man.

The department conducted an extensive investigation, which indicated Speer had been in an altercation with a man, later identified as Chenault, and that Speer had been knocked to the ground and struck his head.

Speer suffered severe head trauma, according to authorities, and was taken to Kalispell Regional Medical Center, where he later died.

Charging documents indicate witnesses at the scene initially said there had been no altercation and Speer, in a heavily intoxicated state, had fallen to the ground.

But after a Whitefish detective watched video footage, it allegedly revealed a man matching Chenault’s description approach another man while a woman had tried to stop Chenault.

The detective then spoke with witnesses and one said Chenault and Speer were arguing outside the VFW and walked toward each other.

Another witness said Chenault slapped Speer and he fell to the ground. She also said Speer said he didn’t want to fight. She described Chenault as a bigger man, about 6 feet tall. Speer’s autopsy report listed him at 5-feet, 8-inches and 148 pounds.

Medical records indicate Speer had a blood alcohol level of .268 at the time of his initial treatment. Records also indicate Speer died of a severe brain injury. The autopsy report indicated Speer died as a result of blunt force injuries of the head.

Scott Shindledecker may be reached at 758-4441 or

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