Dori: Felon released by WA judge charged with killing Idaho couple

Oct 7, 2022, 3:03 PM | Updated: 3:22 pm
Mugshot of John Cody Hart (Photo courtesy of Adams County Sherriff's Office)
(Photo courtesy of Adams County Sherriff's Office)

On the same day Idaho innkeepers Rory and Sara Mehen were hosting summer guests at their charming, small town bed-and-breakfast, a July 22 decision by a judge 450 miles away in Washington state would allegedly lead to their deaths.

Court documents from both states show John Cody Hart, 28 – who was released from jail in Vancouver, WA, despite objections from Clark County prosecutors – is a mentally ill transient felon who appears to have shot the couple Oct. 1 at the front desk of their historic Hartland Inn in New Meadows, ID.

An argument over socks appears to have triggered the killings.

According to reports obtained by The Dori Monson Show, the fatal shootings came seven weeks after Hart was freed by Clark County Superior Court Judge Robert Lewis in southwest Washington. At the time, Hart was just nine days away from what prosecutors were seeking for him: an assigned bed and mental health services at Western State Hospital in Lakewood.

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Instead, Adams County prosecutors say they now plan to seek the death penalty in Idaho against Hart in connection with last week’s slayings of Rory Mehen, 47, and his wife, Sara, 45.

Idaho court documents show Hart was staying at the Hartland Inn – an otherwise sleepy 110-year-old mansion previously owned by several earlier generations of the Mehen family. On the day of the shootings, Idaho prosecutors say, other guests told the Mehens that Hart was rummaging through drawers in their rooms. When police were contacted about his behavior, Hart told them he was searching for his children’s socks. Detectives later learned Hart has no children.

Less than a half-hour later, Hart went to the inn’s front desk where investigators said he fatally shot the couple before fleeing the scene in a car. When officers eventually arrested him, Hart told them he heard voices comparing the innkeepers to 1930s gangsters “Bonnie and Clyde.”

At the time of the shootings, Hart was in violation of his conditional release after an earlier Vancouver case in August 2021, where he was charged with both first- and second-degree assault. Affidavits in that case indicate Hart attacked the sleeping roommate of someone he met on a dating app, pressing his thumbs so deeply into the victim’s eyes that a nurse said the man would likely lose his vision.

Surveillance video shows Hart then punched the victim, restraining the man’s neck until he passed out, the affidavit continues.

One month after this Vancouver attack, Hart was diagnosed with schizophrenia and cannabis use disorder, but a doctor also determined Hart was competent to stand trial. While defense attorneys sought another opinion, Hart remained jailed.

By March 2022, the two sides agreed Hart was not competent for trial. When Hart’s defense attorney sought to have the charges dismissed, Clark County senior deputy prosecutor Luka Vitasovic objected. According to The (Vancouver) Columbian, Vitasovic argued, “the Community does not need somebody suffering from untreated mental illness out committing unprovoked serious violent offenses.”

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Ignoring these objections, Judge Lewis agreed to free Hart on “supervised release” and ordered him to remain in the Vancouver area despite Hart’s history as a transient.

The case, Dori pointed out, has similarities to others in Washington involving judges who released suspects charged with violent assaults while awaiting trial.

In the most prominent case, King County Superior Court Judge Averil Rothrock freed two teens – suspected in a violent Federal Way pawn shop robbery earlier this year – on house arrest while assigning them ankle monitoring devices. Police records show the boys, ages 15 and 16, cut off the electronic trackers. Days later, the armed teens were named suspects in the robbery and murder of Tacoma pot dispensary worker Jordan Brown.

Hart, meanwhile, remains in custody in Idaho, where officials say the Mehens’ killings were “especially heinous” and that the transient will “probably constitute a continuing threat to society.”

Listen to Dori Monson weekday afternoons from noon – 3 p.m. on KIRO Newsradio, 97.3 FM. Subscribe to the podcast here.

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Dori: Felon released by WA judge charged with killing Idaho couple