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Leon Ford trial continues, testimony on last ping of Mike Crites' cell phone

Lewis and Clark County Courthouse
Posted at 5:25 PM, Jun 14, 2023
and last updated 2023-06-15 11:35:40-04

HELENA — Jurors heard more testimony from former Lewis and Clark County law enforcement Wednesday in the trial of Leon Ford as the defense continued to present their case.

Ford is charged with deliberate homicide and tampering with evidence in connection with the 2011 killing of John “Mike” Crites. Documents say Ford had a disagreement with Crites over a gate constructed over the road Ford needed to access his property. The prosecution further alleges Ford had access to a specific type of cable tie found with Crites’ remains.

On Wednesday, the defense questioned former Lewis and Clark County deputy Shane Hildenstab the department's efforts to locate him after he went missing in June 2011, specifically by using Crites’ cell phone.

Hildenstab testified the department requested the cell phone company ping Crites's phone after he was initially reported missing. The cell company was able to ping the phone off a cell tower on Wylie Drive. At that location of the cell tower was a storage facility. Current and former deputies working the case noted in testimony they did not search the facility.

Depending on the make and model of a phone, a cell ping uses the GPS data on the phone, or uses multiple cell towers to triangulate the phone's location. If one tower pings, it could mean the phone could be somewhere in the range of the tower, which might be miles of area.

The jury also heard testimony from individuals who reported what they believed were unusual incidents on or near MacDonald Pass in the area where the remains of Crites were discovered.

Testimony included seeing vehicles not believed to belong to Ford along the road in unusual places and pull-offs. However, on cross-examination, the witnesses said they didn't immediately contact law enforcement after what they witnessed and were unsure if what they saw was directly related to the murder of Crites.

Testimony from witnesses called by the defense is expected to continue in the coming days.

Follow MTN's previous coverage of the Ford trial: Leon Ford Trial Update: Defense questions retired detective