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Judge must accept plea for Idaho man charged with shooting and escape of inmate from hospital

BOISE – Nicholas Umphenour, 28, the Idaho man accused of shooting at correctional officers while helping an inmate escape who was being treated at a Boise hospital, remained silent when asked to confess Wednesday afternoon.

Silence means the defendant refuses to confess. Instead, Fourth Circuit Judge Nancy Baskin entered a not guilty plea on his behalf, as required by Idaho law.

Umphenour's attorney informed Baskin of Umphenour's decision in court.

“Your lawyer has stated that you wish to remain silent and not enter a guilty plea on your own behalf,” Baskin said. “So I will respect that decision.”

Staying silent is an unusual but not unfamiliar legal move, and was recently used by high-profile murder defendant Bryan Kohberger, who is accused of killing four students at the University of Idaho in Moscow.

Umphenour's case will go to a jury trial, which Baskin has scheduled for October 21.

Umphenour said little during his arraignment in Ada County court. He admitted that he understood when Baskin told him that he would face life in prison if found guilty of his alleged crimes and mutilations.

Umphenour is accused of ambushing Idaho Department of Correction officers at Saint Alphonsus Regional Medical Center in Boise on March 20 in an attempt to help inmate Skylar Meade, 31, who was being treated for self-inflicted injuries, escape from custody. Boise police said Umphenour shot two of the officers, while a third was mistakenly shot by police.

Umphenour faces three counts of assault on officers, one count of aiding and abetting an escape, one count of unlawful possession of a firearm, and enhanced penalties for use of a deadly weapon in the commission of a felony and repeat offense.

According to the Idaho State Police, officers arrested the two men on March 21 in the Twin Falls area.

Authorities said they also linked the two men to two murders in northern Idaho – one in Nez Perce County and another in Clearwater County – that occurred while they were at large.

Prosecutors have not yet charged anyone in the killings. Meade pleaded guilty to fleeing without a plea agreement on May 15 and received a sentence enhancement for repeat violator.

His defense attorney Rob Chastain said Meade was convinced there was a strong factual basis for the crimes.

Umphenour's previous criminal record

Court records show that Umphenour served three different prison sentences as an adult before his most recent arrest.

In August 2014, he was first arrested for illegal hunting and kidnapping of several big game animals.

In March 2016, he was arrested while on probation and later found guilty of aggravated burglary. A judge added two years to his sentence for violating probation. He was released in March 2018.

Less than a year later, in December 2018, Umphenour, who lived in Orofino, Idaho, was charged and later found guilty of illegal possession of a firearm and grand larceny in Clearwater County. He was accused of stealing a truck and other tools from a cedar lumber mill in Weippe, Idaho. According to police reports, officers found the truck burned.

Umphenour began his prison sentence for these crimes in June 2019 and was released on January 17.

Anna Harden

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