Accused murderer wants Whidbey residents to testify on his behalf

Three more Whidbey Island residents are being summoned to Montana to testify in a murder trial.

Three more Whidbey Island residents are being summoned to Montana to testify at the trial of a 68-year-old Oak Harbor man accused in a 2011 murder.

Leon Ford allegedly shot John M. Crites to death over an access road dispute in Montana, where they owned property next to each other, according to court documents. Crites’ dismembered remains were found by forest service workers in garbage bags and his head was later found in a wooded area by a man looking for his dog.

A medical examiner determined that Crites died from gunshot wounds to the head.

Ford is facing charges of deliberate homicide and tampering with or fabricating physical evidence. The trial has been continued several times.

In March, the prosecutors in Montana summoned five Oak Harbor area residents, including his wife, to testify against Ford.

Several of the residents were going to testify about cable ties that were found with the human remains at both sites. Investigators believe the unique cable ties, which were stamped with identifying information, came from Chugach Industries in Oak Harbor, where Ford was employed.

On Sept. 21, Ford’s attorney filed a petition in Island County Superior Court for a hearing to consider a request for an out-of-state summons. Specifically, the attorney is asking for three residents to testify at trial on Dec. 5.

The three residents used to work at Chugach. Ford’s attorney claims they are familiar with procedures at the company and would be able to testify that it was “entirely possible” that the cable ties in question could have been issued to another man named “Leon” and not Ford, according to a document filed in Island County Superior Court.

A forensic scientist examined a bullet taken from the head. In October of 2012, detectives served a search warrant on Ford’s home in Oak Harbor and seized three handguns, the investigator wrote. Ford wasn’t arrested until 2020. Oak Harbor police assisted detectives from Lewis and Clark County in Montana in taking Ford into custody.

Police reports describe “a bitter dispute” between Ford and Crites over an access road that led to property owned by Ford and his wife. The road crossed a portion of Crites’ property and Crites installed a metal barrier across the road to prevent Ford from using it.