Charges dropped against man accused in 2011 death of John 'Mike' Crites near Helena

Arrest made in the murder of John Michael Crites
Posted at 12:18 PM, Mar 26, 2024

HELENA — Almost a year after his trial for deliberate homicide ended with a deadlocked jury, Lewis and Clark County prosecutors have filed a motion saying they’ll no longer pursue charges against Leon Ford for the 2011 killing of John “Mike” Crites.

In a statement to MTN, Lewis and Clark County Attorney Kevin Downs said, "After a thorough review and in consideration of all of the information and evidence related to this investigation, the State will not proceed in retrying this case. The State respects the decision of the jury as well as the cardinal principle that a person is presumed innocent unless and until the State can establish guilt beyond a reasonable doubt."

WATCH: Judge declares mistrial after jury deadlocks

Judge declares mistrial after jury deadlocks in Leon Ford trial

Last June, after three weeks of testimony, jurors deliberated for 12 hours and couldn’t agree on a verdict. District Court Judge Mike Menahan declared a mistrial.

This means Crites’ death remains unresolved, well over a decade after it happened. Crites was last seen alive in June 2011. In October of that year, 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.

Leon Ford on the Stand

Ford owned a property adjacent to Crites’ home on Turk Road, in a rural area outside Birdseye, northwest of Helena. The two men had a years-long dispute over land access, including confrontations in 2002 and 2007. Prosecutors had argued that the dispute might have provided Ford with a motive.

After years without an arrest in Crites’ death, authorities took Ford into custody in August 2020. Ford denied he killed Crites, including on the stand during his trial.

Editor's note: This is a developing story.