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Jury selection begins in trial for suspect in killing of John "Mike" Crites

John Michael Crites
Posted at 6:38 PM, May 30, 2023

HELENA — Testimony is set to begin this week in Helena, in the trial of a man charged with deliberate homicide in a case that dates back more than a decade.

Jury selection began Tuesday in the trial of Leon Michael Ford, the man arrested in connection with the 2011 murder of John “Mike” Crites. It was held at the Helena Civic Center because of the large pool of potential jurors. Juror interviews are set to continue on Wednesday.

Jury selection continued Wednesday for Mike Crites

Crites went missing in June 2011. In October 2011, his dismembered remains were discovered in plastic bags on the east side of MacDonald Pass. His skull was found several miles west of the pass in September 2012.

An autopsy showed Crites, who was 48 at the time of his disappearance, died from two gunshot wounds to the head.

Crites lived on a property along Turk Road, in a rural area outside Birdseye, northwest of Helena. He had been involved in long-running disputes with several of his neighbors – including Ford, who owned a property further up the road.

A branch of Turk Road runs through Crites’ property before leading to Ford’s land. Crites had put up a gate across that road, claiming there wasn’t a legal easement for Ford to use it. Court documents say the two men had previous confrontations about access.

Ford was arrested in August 2020 and charged with deliberate homicide and tampering with evidence.

According to documents, another neighbor’s game camera showed Ford’s truck going up the road around the time Crites made his last phone call – in which he told a friend he was worried issues with his neighbors could end in violence.

The documents also say investigators found cable ties at both locations where Crites’ remains were discovered. The ties were eventually identified as an unusual type that had to be special-ordered.

According to the documents, investigators found records from a contractor at the Naval Air Station Whidbey Island, where Ford worked, showing Ford had taken some of those ties from a warehouse, but that there was no identification of what project they were supposed to be used for.

Ford’s attorneys went to the Montana Supreme Court earlier this month, asking them to delay the trial to allow more time for DNA testing on the cable ties. They said a recent test identified DNA profiles from two men. Only one profile was usable for comparisons, but it was found not to be Ford.

Ford’s lawyers said the ties were the only physical evidence allegedly connecting him to Crites’ death, and identifying the DNA on them could point to the true killer.

The Supreme Court decided not to intervene, saying Ford would have the chance to share the DNA evidence during the trial.

Ford’s trial has already been delayed several times since initially being scheduled for 2021.