Wittal to Appeal Murder Conviction

Kalispell man sentenced to 100 years in prison for drug-fueled murder near Creston

By Justin Franz
An emotional Robert Wittal gives testimony during his trial in Flathead County District Court on Oct. 19, 2016. Greg Lindstrom | Flathead Beacon

Robert Wittal, a 30-year-old Kalispell man convicted of murder last year, is expected to file an appeal with the Montana Supreme Court.

On April 5, Chief Appellate Defender Chad Wright filed a notice of appeal informing the Montana Supreme Court that Wittal plans to contest his conviction and 110-year sentence to prison.

The formal appeal, with Wittal’s legal argument stating why his conviction should be overturned, has yet to be filed.

Wittal was one of four people arrested in June 2016 following the discovery of Wade Allen Rautio’s body east of Creston. Rautio was stabbed two-dozen times over an alleged drug debt. Prosecutors said that Melisa Ann Crone had ordered Wittal, David Vincent Toman and Christopher Michael Hansen to kill Rautio, who had been living at Crone’s Evergreen home. Wittal was charged with deliberate homicide, while the other three were accused of accountability to deliberate homicide.

Wittal went to trial in October 2016. During the four-day trial, prosecutors painted a picture of a self-described drug enforcer who went by the nickname “Ghost” and who had a vendetta against the victim. Wittal denied that version of events, however, and said that his co-defendants had framed him. But that story quickly fell apart when prosecutors revealed a confiscated jailhouse letter to his family that allegedly detailed his version of events with a note that stated, “It is very, very important that you remember all this so that we are on the same page at trial.” In the letter that was supposed to go to his fiancé, Wittal wrote that if she followed his directions, “I’ll give you the world.”
The other three defendants didn’t go to trial. On March 15, Crone pleaded guilty to felony criminal distribution of dangerous drugs. In return, prosecutors agreed to drop the charge for accountability to homicide. Crone will be sentenced on May 25, and prosecutors and the defense are expected to jointly recommend a 40-year sentence to the Montana Women’s Prison with 20 years suspended.

Toman pleaded guilty on March 23 to accountability to deliberate homicide, but then, in testimony during his change of plea hearing, wavered on his involvement in the crime. District Court Judge Dan Wilson rejected the plea and advised Toman to spend more time with his attorney before rescheduling the change-of-plea hearing for April 27.

Hansen signed a plea agreement late last month and is scheduled to appear in court on May 4. According to court records, prosecutors are expected to recommend a 50-year sentence to the Montana State Prison at a yet-to-be scheduled sentencing hearing.

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