The 29-year-old woman who prosecutors had previously said ordered the murder of a 34-year-old Kalispell man has pleaded guilty to felony criminal distribution of a dangerous drug.
Melisa Ann Crone was previously charged with accountability to deliberate homicide and criminal possession of dangerous drugs, both felonies. On March 15 in Flathead County District Court, she pleaded guilty before Judge Dan Wilson to an amended charge of distribution. The accountability to homicide charge was dropped.
By pleading guilty to felony distribution, Crone admitted that she had been dealing methamphetamine in early 2016. She will be sentenced on May 25. Prosecutors and the defense are expected to jointly recommend a 40-year sentence to the Montana State Prison with 20 years suspended.
Defense attorney Jason Bryan said after the March 15 hearing that he believed prosecutors would have had a hard time convincing a jury that Crone had ordered the murder of Wade Allen Rautio in May 2016.
According to court records and charging documents, Robert Wittal, Christopher Michael Hansen and David Vincent Toman stabbed Rautio to death in the woods east of Creston over a drug debt. Wittal, Hansen and Toman were all arrested in June 2016 after Rautio’s body was discovered in a creek. Crone was arrested soon after and prosecutors initially believed that she had orchestrated the crime. Wittal was charged with deliberate homicide and Crone, Hansen and Toman were charged with accountability to deliberate homicide. All four defendants denied the allegations in July.
Wittal was convicted of homicide at trial in October and sentenced to 110 years in prison earlier this year.
Toman, the man who first led law enforcement to Rautio’s body, recently signed a plea agreement and is scheduled to appear at a change of plea hearing later this month. Hansen is set to stand trial in early April, although attorneys say plea agreement negotiations are ongoing.