Three people were sentenced in Great Falls on Tuesday, July 26, 2022, for the death of five-year old Antonio "Tony" Renova in November 2019.
The three people are Tony's parents, Emelio Renova and Stephanie Byington; and Racso Birdtail, an acquaintance of theirs.
Judge Elizabeth Best gave Renova the maximum penalty of 100 years in prison with no eligibility for parole.
Byington was sentenced to 100 years in the Montana State Women’s Prison with no parole eligibility for 30 years.
Judge Best noted, “I am also taking into account what I watched in the videos that were provided to me and in the photos, you were an equal participant in beating this starving, tortured child… so I am not taking any account to claims that you were forced.”
Birdtail was sentenced to five years in prison for assault, and 10 years for tampering with evidence.
Judge Best told Birdtail, “I think you deserve an opportunity for parole. I think you deserve an opportunity to make amends. You’ve been assessed to be a moderate risk of reoffending and I have considered the mitigation arguments made by your counsel, particularly that this is your first felony, and I am considering the impact this has had on the victim, the victim’s family, and the community.”
On Wednesday, November 20, 2019, emergency dispatchers received a 911 call for medical assistance at an apartment on the 1200 block of 9th Street NW. Emergency responders administered first aid to the child, but the child was already dead.
Court documents said the "occupants of the apartment were not in distress when officers arrived, and the father was not reacting as officers would have expected for such a traumatic event." Officers found the five-year old boy bleeding from his mouth and nose, and saw blood and what appeared to be brain matter on his clothing and on the floor around his body.
The court documents state that the child was covered in bruises, and one of his legs appeared "to be abnormal and possibly broken." The child had an "obvious gash" on his head the size of a silver dollar.
Christy Foster, who was Antonio's foster mother from shortly after he was born until he was given back to his birth parents in February 2019, told MTN News, "Tony was a sweet boy. He loved animals. He always knew how to make people laugh because he was such a ham. He loved going to church. He loved learning new things." She assured us that he experienced much happiness and joy during his years with them.
Tracy Cotton Fleming, a foster great-aunt of Antonio, told MTN News in a message: "This child was in a very loving home from birth until a judge removed him from foster home (that he had been in since birth) to be reunited with his parents. It broke his foster parents hearts as they were told that if the parents were unable to care for him he would just go back into the foster system. They would not have a chance to be his parents if something happened to the parents. They wanted to adopt Tony but the judge said she would not be the first judge in the state of Montana to give an Native American Indian (Tony) to a white family. I hope this judge knows she sentenced him to death. I was his great Aunt! We are beyond heartbroken by this entire situation that resulted in the horrible death of a wonderful little boy."
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