FALLS – Joseph Knowles has pleaded guilty to deliberate homicide for the death of 18-year-old Megan Meriwether.
Knowles, 17, admitted in court Tuesday that on Sept. 23, 2016, he was planning to steal marijuana from Meriwether. During the incident, he said he caused the death of Meriwether.
According to the plea agreement, the state will recommend Knowles be sentenced to 60 years at Montana State Prison. Sentencing for Knowles has been scheduled for Dec. 19.
Court documents state that just after 11 p.m. police officers responded to a report of a disturbance near 10th Street South and 8th Alley South. A 911 caller reported several people outside yelling about a knife. The caller told dispatch that several people fled in a dark vehicle.
The caller told dispatch that she found a female victim – later identified as Meriwether – lying in the alley and not breathing. Police officers and medical personnel arrived at the scene and took Meriwether to Benefis Health System, where she was pronounced dead.
A witness to the event told investigating officers that he thought the fleeing vehicle noted by the 911 caller could have been that of his friend Joseph Knowles.
The witness told officers that he and Knowles had spoken at about 10 p.m., when Knowles had asked if he could park outside of the residence to sleep. The witness told officers that Knowles was with Brianna May Coombs, who was said to be Knowles’ girlfriend.
Court documents state that Knowles is known by Great Falls Police officers to be homeless and lives in his vehicle, often with Coombs. The witness then called Knowles, and Knowles reportedly said, “It was me,” and that he was scared.
According to court documents, Knowles told the witness that he was in a fight with a girl over a marijuana purchase in the alley. Knowles told the witness Coombs was there to buy marijuana, but did not have enough money to pay for it.
Meriwether followed Coombs to the vehicle and allegedly stabbed her in the leg. Knowles jumped out of the car and pushed Meriwether to the ground. Court documents state that “…during that process (Knowles) was holding the victim’s arm.” Knowles said that the victim got stabbed in the chest with her own knife.
At that point in the phone conversation between the witness and Knowles, according to court documents, the witness told Knowles that Meriwether had died. The witness said that he heard Coombs scream in the background of the phone call at that point. The witness told Knowles that he needed to turn himself in and ask for an attorney.
Knowles replied that he was scared and wanted to run, and then ended the phone call.
About 30 minutes later, Knowles called the witness and said that he did not know what to do; the witness again urged Knowles to turn himself in and said that running away was not the right decision.
Police officers then attempted to talk with Knowles and get him to come to the police department; Knowles eventually agreed.
Officers were able to track the vehicle that Knowles and Coombs were in and realized that they were driving away from Great Falls, according to court documents.
Knowles and Coombs were eventually found at the Ramble Inn west of Great Falls near the junction of Highway 200 and Highway 89; they were then taken to the Great Falls Police Department for questioning.
Knowles and Coombs were also accompanied by a juvenile male, whose name is not disclosed in court documents. The young male told police that he and the two suspects were driving around on Friday night and that they went to an area near Longfellow Elementary School to meet someone.
The juvenile told police that Coombs got out of the vehicle and left, and when she returned, she was followed by Meriwether. The juvenile said that Meriwether said something to the effect of “not this time” to Coombs and attempted to get in the vehicle, but Coombs tried to close the door.
Court documents then state: “An altercation ensued in which the victim, Meriwether, hung on to the outside of the open door of the vehicle while attempting to fight with Brianna. Joseph Knowles was driving the vehicle. Joseph drove the vehicle approximately 1.5 blocks before stopping the vehicle and the altercation continued. The juvenile male claimed that Meriwether had stabbed Brianna in the leg with a knife and that a struggle ensued over the knife. He said the knife was taken by Joseph and that it was left in the vehicle.”
Police officers then searched the site where Meriwether was found and found several pieces of evidence. Court documents noted that there were obvious signs of a struggle, as Meriwether was found with one shoe on and one off.
Meriwether also had a handful of hair in her hand at the hospital which appeared to be consistent with the hair of Coombs. When Meriwether’s body was found, it was “covered in marijuana” and a significant amount of marijuana was found in the alley where her body was found.
Coombs is also facing charges in connection with Meriwether’s death. Her charges include robbery, tampering with evidence and solicitation to commit distribution of dangerous drugs.