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Polson man charged with killing mother pleads not guilty

A Polson charged with stabbing his mother to death and hiding her body in her home appeared in court on Thursday.
Posted at 11:05 AM, Sep 28, 2023
and last updated 2023-09-28 17:01:03-04

POLSON — The Polson charged with stabbing his mother who had dementia to death and hiding her body in her home appeared in court on Thursday, Sept. 28, 2023.

Garrett Edward Vaska pleaded not guilty after being charged with felony deliberate homicide and felony tampering with/or fabricating physical evidence.

Vaska is accused of stabbing his mother — Philista St. John — in late August and hiding her body in her 10th Avenue West home in Polson.

Vaska is being held in the Lake County Detention Center on $250,000 bond, He is scheduled to appear in court again on February 26, 2024.

Prosecutors say Vaska stabbed his mother multiple times with a knife, causing her death, then concealed her body by wrapping her in garbage bags and blankets and hiding her in one of her bedrooms.

Polson Murder Location
The body of Philista St. John was found in late August of 2023 inside her home on 10th Avenue West in Polson.

Prior to St. John's death, Tribal healthcare workers cared for the woman who suffered from dementia and diabetes. The Tribal healthcare workers were working to place her in an assisted living facility as her health was deteriorating.

According to court documents, Vaska was living in an outbuilding on the property and was not capable of meeting St. John's needs as a caregiver.

Tribal health workers made several visits to the home to check on St. John and after several unsuccessful attempts, a Tribal officer performed a requested welfare check on Sept. 6.

The officer noticed an open window and requested additional backup, according to charging documents. While he waited, Vaska came out from behind the house.

The officer told Vaska he was there to do a welfare check. The officer asked if Vaska's mother was in the house, and he said yes.

The officer asked Vaska why he told Tribal health workers were no longer needed. Vaska then said St. John had passed away and told officers she had been dead for a few days and that he didn't have money for a funeral.

Vaska told the officers he was intending to take her home to South Dakota where their Tribe would assist with funeral expenses. Vaska told officers he placed St. John in one of her bedrooms.

Garrett Vaska
Garrett Vaska appearing in a Polson courtroom on September 28, 2023.

The officer then placed Vaska under arrest for an outstanding warrant.

CSKT Tribal Police and a Montana Highway Patrol trooper then checked the house and found St. John's body had been placed in garbage bags and covered with several blankets. A coroner was requested.

St. John's body was taken to the Montana Crime Lab for an autopsy which showed that it appeared St. John had been stabbed several times, including in the head and chest. A small piece of what appeared to be a broken knife tip was located in St. John's skull.

The final autopsy report showed the cause of death was homicide.

- information from Kiana Wilson and Melissa Rafferty included in this report.