Campsite fugitive back in court in Flathead County

by Scott Shindledecker
Daily Inter Lake | June 23, 2020 4:28 PM

When a Western Montana man went missing from a campsite in Sanders County on Memorial Day there was considerable reaction from the social media community.

Some commenters didn’t believe enough was being done by local law enforcement officers to find the man.

But it turned out the man was a convicted rapist from Flathead County who has several felony convictions and a criminal past which dates back more than 30 years.

James Todd Whitmarsh, 51, was reported missing from a campsite on the morning of Monday, May 25, near the mouth of the Thompson River near Montana 200. The next day, the Sanders County Sheriff’s Office reported his disappearance on its Facebook page.

Whitmarsh had pleaded guilty to raping a 14-year-old girl in Flathead County in 2006. He received a 18-year sentence with nine suspended to the Montana State Prison. He wasn’t parole eligible for five years, but he did complete sex offender treatment.

Whitmarsh was paroled in 2011 and lived in Missoula. Part of the conditions of his parole were he had to get permission from his probation and parole officer if he wanted to leave the Missoula area.

On Friday, May 22, Whitmarsh refused to respond to phone calls and messages from his parole officer. Three days later he was reported missing and on May 31 he checked into a motel in Spokane, according to court documents.

Whitmarsh didn’t have permission to leave Missoula and it was just one of the reasons he was back in Flathead District Court Thursday afternoon for a revocation hearing.

According to court filings by the parole officer, on March 7, 2020, Whitmarsh tested positive for ingesting methamphetamine. He also failed to take mandatory drug tests on three occasions in May, just days before he went missing. It resulted in Whitmarsh being removed from the treatment program he was supposed to be involved in.

Then he was fired on June 3 for not showing up at work at a local business in Missoula. Soon after, he was booked into the Missoula County Jail.

When District Judge Robert Allison asked Whitmarsh and his attorney Lane Bennett how he wished to address the allegations of violating his parole, the response was “general denials.”

Bennett did ask the judge to delay the hearing because Whitmarsh was entering drug rehabilitation. Allison granted the request and the hearing was scheduled for Aug. 27.

Whitmarsh also had three DUI convictions dating as far back as 1989. A 2005 DUI charge against Whitmarsh was dismissed in exchange for him pleading guilty to the 2006 rape charge.