HELENA — The murder of Mike Crites remains unresolved, as it has for over a decade.
One day after closing statements, the jury in the Leon Ford murder trial said they are deadlocked and the District Court Judge Mike Menahan declared a mistrial.
Ford’s three-week-long deliberate homicide trial wrapped up early Tuesday afternoon. The jury spend more than 12 hours of deliberation before remaining deadlocked Wednesday evening.
Prosecutors accused Ford of murdering and dismembering John "Mike" Crites in 2011.
Crites' remains were found at two different locations MacDonald Pass in 2011 and 2012. It would take nearly nine years for investigators to arrest a suspect after the location of the second remains was discovered, and another almost three years for the case to go to trial.
"Mr. Ford did not kill or dismember Michael Crites. He did not do that," Ford's attorney Palmer Hoovestal told MTN following the mistrial ruling. "He's just disappointed that it wasn't a not guilty verdict, but he certainly was not convicted. And I think any sort of retrial will not end up in a conviction either."
Ford and Crites had a long-running dispute over land access between their Turk Road properties in the Birdseye area west of Helena. Crites had placed a gate across a road Ford used to reach his land. Prosecutors have argued that issue provided Ford with a motive. Crites also disappeared during the days in 2011 when Ford had returned to Montana from Washington to work on his property.
No murder weapon or murder scene has been identified. A key part of the prosecution's case was trying to link cable ties found on Crites' remains to Ford. The state said they were unable to locate matching cable ties on any of the properties they investigated on Turk Road. The prosecution alleges Ford had access to matching cable ties at the Naval Air Station he worked at on Whidbey Island in Washington.
Over the course of the trial, the jury heard testimony about those cable ties and altercations Ford and Crites had, including a 2007 incident where guns were drawn but not pointed at either party.
Two Turk Road residents were also called to take the stand, John Mehan and Katy Wessel. Mehan and Wessel were neighbors of Crites on Turk Road in 2011 when Crites went missing. Neither has been named a suspect in connection to the murder of Crites.
Both Mehan and Wessel invoked their Fifth Amendment rights to not self-incriminate through testimony. Wessel invoked her constitutional rights through her counsel.
Lead prosecutor Leo Gallagher told reporters after the announcement of a mistrial that it was a close case, and he wasn't surprised it ended with a hung jury, but he expected Ford would be retried.
A tentative date for a new trial was set for January 2024. The defense told MTN they would attempt to block a retrial on double jeopardy claims.
Editor's note: This story has been updated with more information about the case and comments from the defense and prosecution following the mistrial.