Leon Ford's family members testify as his trial continues in Helena

Leon Ford Trial Debbie Ford
Posted at 6:53 PM, Jun 09, 2023
and last updated 2023-06-09 20:56:34-04

HELENA — As the trial of Leon Ford wrapped up its second week, the prosecution came close to finishing its case, and the defense brought in its first witnesses.

Ford is charged with deliberate homicide and tampering with evidence in connection with the 2011 killing of John “Mike” Crites. Friday marked the seventh day of testimony – much of it from Ford’s family members, speaking about what he was doing in the days before and after Crites was last seen alive.

Ford’s wife Debbie said she and her husband came from their home in Washington state to their property along Turk Road in late June 2011 because the county weed department had asked them to spray for weeds along the roads.

Crites’ property was adjacent to Ford’s, and Ford used a road that went through Crites’ land to access his. Prosecutors say the two men had previous disagreements about access, including a confrontation in 2007. Most recently, Crites had installed a metal barricade blocking the road.

Ford sent a letter to Crites before coming to Montana, asking him to open the gate so he could reach his property. Debbie Ford said her husband went up the road alone the evening of July 25, 2023. She said he told her he found the barricade in place, then met with Crites and had a discussion he said he was satisfied with.

Despite the ongoing tension, Debbie Ford said she wasn’t concerned about her husband’s safety when he went up to the property that night.

“We’ve had several encounters with Mike; not all of them were confrontational,” she said.

Crites made his last known phone call on the morning of June 26. Prosecutors have pointed to images from a neighbor’s camera, showing Ford’s truck going up Turk Road around that time and coming down hours later.

Debbie Ford said her husband told her he had spent the day searching the road for what some have described as “booby traps” – nails and other metal debris that someone had left, which could puncture a tire. She said he wanted to make sure the area was clear before the two of them brought up a weed sprayer on June 27.

Defense attorneys asked Debbie Ford if she noticed anything unusual when speaking to her husband on the phone several times on June 26.

“Was he angry or upset?” asked defense attorney Juli Pierce. “He didn’t tell you, ‘I just killed Mike Crites’? He didn’t tell you, “I’m busy cutting up Mike Crites’ body?’”

“No,” Debbie Ford responded.

She said she and her husband sprayed weeds together on the 27th. Then, on the 28th, she said her then-10-year-old grandson, Dylan Jones, joined Ford to spray weeds, while she and her daughter-in-law, Krista Jones, looked around the Ford property on ATVs.

Dylan and Krista Jones were the defense’s first witnesses. The two came cross-country from their home in New York to visit the Fords. They arrived on the 27th, then spent two days with the Fords – visiting the Turk Road property, attending a barbecue with neighbors and doing additional sightseeing. After that, all four left the area and traveled to the Fords’ home in Washington.

Both Dylan and Krista Jones said they saw nothing unusual in Ford’s behavior during that time. Dylan Jones said he saw no suspicious items or potential evidence pointing to Crites’ disappearance while exploring the Fords’ RV, and Krista Jones said she didn’t notice any signs of a struggle while going around extensively on the Fords’ property.

Crites’ dismembered remains were discovered on the east side of MacDonald Pass in October 2011. His skull was found several miles west of the pass in September 2012.

The prosecution plans to introduce one more deposition, for a witness who wasn't able to testify in person. However, other than that, they’re ready to rest their case. The trial will continue on Monday.

Follow MTN's previous coverage of the Ford trial: Investigators testify as Turk Road murder trial continues