Wittal Sentenced to 110 Years in Prison for Creston Murder

Robert Matthew Wittal was convicted last fall for stabbing Wade Allen Rautio more than two dozen times in the woods near Creston

By Justin Franz
Robert Wittal addresses the family of Wade Allen Rautio as he is sentenced in Flathead County District Court on Jan. 17, 2017. Greg Lindstrom | Flathead Beacon

Robert Matthew Wittal, the 29-year-old Kalispell man convicted of murdering Wade Allen Rautio in the woods east of Creston last spring, has been sentenced to 110 years in the Montana State Prison.

Wittal appeared at a dramatic and tense sentencing hearing before Flathead County District Court Judge Robert Allison on Jan. 17. During the two-hour hearing, the court heard emotional testimony from Rautio’s family about a man who was described as caring and hard working.

“My son is gone and I will never ever get another phone call from him,” said Tomi Rautio, the victim’s mother. “Never again.”

In May 2016, Wittal and two other men – David Vincent Toman and Christopher Michael Hansen – took Rautio out into the woods east of Creston and stabbed him more than two dozen times over an alleged drug debt. Rautio’s body was left in a creek for more than two weeks until Toman led law enforcement to the crime scene.

In early June, Wittal, Toman, Hansen and Melisa Ann Crone were arrested and charged in Rautio’s death. Prosecutors say Crone had ordered Wittal to kill Rautio. Wittal was charged with deliberate homicide and Toman, Hansen and Crone were charged with accountability to deliberate homicide. All four people pleaded not guilty.

Wittal was convicted of deliberate homicide following a four-day jury trial in October. During the trial, witnesses said that Wittal had bragged about murdering Rautio and wanted to be known as an “enforcer” who could not be messed with. Wittal denied the allegations and said his three co-defendants framed him and that he had actually tried to save Rautio from them. Wittal’s story fell apart, however, when prosecutors confronted him with a confiscated jailhouse letter to his fiancée outlining the story he was telling his attorney. In the letter, Wittal said that if she followed his directions, “I’ll give you the world.”

On Jan. 17, wearing a Flathead County Jail jumpsuit and a shaved head, Wittal walked back into the same court he was convicted in three months earlier. Shortly after 9 a.m., Prosecutor John Donovan called upon friends and family members of Rautio to tell the judge about the man Wittal had murdered.

Many family members talked about Rautio’s struggle with drugs but said that deep down he was a caring and hardworking man.

“Wade was a good man,” said Rautio’s cousin, Kevin Peterson. “He struggled with drugs and he had his flaws, but he was a good man.”

As Peterson spoke he swung a vial of Rautio’s ashes around his finger and demanded that Wittal look him in the eye.

“You are a sadistic freak,” Peterson said.

After Rautio’s friends and family testified, Wittal’s family members took the stand. His mother, Theresa Bering, said that there was no way her son could have killed another man. She also said that her son frequently took care of her because of numerous health issues.

“I do not believe my son did this,” she said, crying on the stand. “I can’t rely on the justice system. I have to rely on God and know that he sees everything.”

At the end of Bering’s testimony, she began to gasp for air before rushing out of the courtroom with an inhaler.

After the final witness testified, prosecutors and the defense gave their sentencing recommendations. Prosecutors Donovan and Andrew Clegg requested 100 years to the Montana State Prison with 10 additional years because a weapon was used in the crime. They requested that Wittal never be eligible for parole. Defense Attorney Steve Scott said that his client maintained his innocence. He recommended the judge sentence Wittal to 73 years in prison with two additional years for the use of a weapon for a combined sentence of 75 years.

Moments before Allison handed down his sentence, Wittal addressed the court. Wittal again said he did not commit the crime and that he felt sorry for what had happened to Rautio. During his statement, one of Rautio’s family members yelled out, “then why don’t you look at us!” Wittal turned to the audience and continued.

“I really am sorry for your loss,” he said. “I know there is nothing I can do to make you feel better.”

Judge Allison started by saying that Rautio’s murder was one of the most “gruesome” cases he had ever presided over. He also blamed the murder on the Flathead’s growing methamphetamine epidemic. All four defendants were allegedly using and dealing the drug at the time of the murder.

“This crime is a byproduct of the appalling drug culture here in the Flathead Valley,” he said. “This drug is becoming a cancer on this community.”

Allison then sentenced Wittal to 110 years in the Montana State Prison with credit for 218 days served in jail. Wittal will not be eligible for parole for 45 years. In defending his decision for the parole restriction that will prevent Wittal from leaving prison until he is at least 75 years old, Allison said, “Mr. Wittal gives new meaning to the word dangerous.”

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