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Woman changes plea in murder case

March 15, 2017

A woman accused of involvement in the 2016 murder of Wade Rautio near Echo Lake has admitted to a lesser charge as part of a plea deal.

Melisa Crone, 29, initially charged with accountability to deliberate homicide and possession of dangerous drugs, pleaded guilty March 15 in Flathead District Court to an amended charge of criminal distribution of dangerous drugs, according to a plea agreement with the state.

According to public defender John Donovan, because of Crone’s alleged minimal involvement in Rautio’s murder, the state would have faced difficulty in proving her guilt, leading to a jury’s inability to convict her.

Prosecutors initially said co-defendants David Vincent Toman, 21, Christopher Michael Hansen, 28 and Crone helped Robert Matthew Wittal, 28, plan and kill Rautio.

Crone admitted to selling or giving methamphetamine to Toman, but has maintained her innocence in Rautio’s murder.

Testimony presented at Wittal’s trial stated that Crone had allegedly approved of Wittal’s plan to assault Rautio and advised him of Rautio’s presence at her home preceding the murder.

Crone testified in October that Wittal told her “he stabbed him about 100 times. He said (Rautio) had a strong soul and he didn’t want to go down. His soul wasn’t ready to leave.”

A medical examiner found that Rautio had been stabbed at least 25 times.

Wittal was convicted of Rautio’s murder earlier this year and was sentenced to 110 years in Montana State Prison.

The charge of accountability to homicide carried a potential sentence of 100 years in Montana State Prison.

Crone now faces life in prison for the distribution charge. However, Donovan said that a mutual sentencing recommendation will suggest a 40-year sentence to Montana State Prison with 20 years suspended.

Sentencing was set for May 25.

Reporter Mary Cloud Taylor can be reached at 758-4459 or mtaylor@dailyinterlake.com.