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Man changes plea in father's arson death

by SCOTT SHINDLEDECKER
Daily Inter Lake | February 23, 2021 10:58 AM

The criminal case against a Kalispell man accused of killing his father in an arson fire last October appears headed to trial.

Jason David Weldele, 42, appeared in Flathead County District Court Tuesday morning with attorney Maury Soloman and pleaded not guilty to criminal endangerment.

Weldele made the decision after District Judge Amy Eddy rejected a plea deal last Thursday, Feb. 18. Eddy said she would set a trial date as soon as possible once she checked the courtroom schedule. The trial is expected to last five days.

At last week’s hearing, Eddy told defendant Weldele and his defense attorneys Liam Gallagher and Greg Rapkoch and deputy county prosecutor Andrew Clegg she wasn’t going to be bound by a plea agreement they had previously reached.

“If the state can’t prove its case against Mr. Weldele based on misconduct of the investigating officers, it should be dismissed,” Eddy said.

Weldele was charged with deliberate homicide after the Oct. 17 incident in which 63-year-old Daniel Gerald Weldele died of smoke inhalation inside his residence. Authorities believed Jason Weldele set the fire and then blocked possible avenues of exit for his father, who has been described as semi-ambulatory.

The defendant originally pleaded not guilty, but on Jan. 19, both sides agreed to a reduced charge of criminal endangerment. Weldele pleaded no contest and the plea deal called for a five-year suspended sentence.

Eddy said she reviewed the pre-sentence investigation and letters from interested parties before reaching her decision.

Weldele remains in the Flathead County Detention Center. His bail remains at $100,000.

Court documents indicate Gallagher and Rapkoch filed several motions in the case, including a motion to suppress evidence alleging a Miranda rights violation; a motion to suppress, alleging a warrantless arrest; and a motion to dismiss.

In the sentencing memorandum, filed by the county, it was reported new, compelling information came to light that changed the direction of the case.

The sentencing memorandum filed by Deputy County Attorney Amy Kenison reported that follow-up interviews and trial preparation revealed information that raised questions about the origins of the fire.

Some witnesses said other people started the fire and others had a motive to burn Jason Weldele’s home. Witnesses also alleged both Jason Weldele and Dan Weldele were known to use methamphetamine and display erratic behavior while under the influence.

Witnesses also said Dan Weldele was known to try to burn imaginary “bugs” on the carpet when he was under the influence of meth. Dan Weldele’s autopsy indicated meth was in his system.

THE INCIDENT began Oct. 16, 2020, at approximately 5:21 p.m. when Jason Weldele called the Flathead County Sheriff’s Office to report suspicious activity at the residence. A deputy reported Weldele allegedly said strangers had entered his residence and placed hidden cameras around the home, but said his father was inside the home with him and that he didn’t want officers to respond.

More than six hours later, 911 dispatch received another call from Jason Weldele. He reported the building was on fire, but he didn’t confirm an address and said “I gotta go” before promptly hanging up the phone.

Law officers and firefighters responded shortly after 2 a.m. on Oct. 17 and discovered flames coming out of the home. Jason Weldele was allegedly found outside of the residence and according to a deputy’s report, was acting erratic and ran away when asked if anyone else was inside the burning structure.

Daniel Weldele’s body was later discovered inside the home. Deputies also found a shard of glass and lighter in Jason Weldele’s pocket after he was arrested.

Scott Shindledeckermay be reached at sshindledecker@dailyinterlake.com or at 406-758-4441.