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Two more suspects in Newport killing of Jason Fox plead not guilty to murder

UPDATED: Fri., Nov. 20, 2020

Jason Fox, 19, was killed in September. Four men have been charged in his death.  (Courtesy)
Jason Fox, 19, was killed in September. Four men have been charged in his death. (Courtesy)

One day after their two co-defendants pleaded not guilty to a string of charges related to the killing and burial of a 19-year-old in Newport in mid-September, Riley Hillestad and Claude L. Merritt did the same during their Friday morning arraignments.

Hillestad, Merritt, Matthew Raddatz-Freeman and Kevin Belding, all residents of Newport in their 20s, are each facing charges of first-degree murder related to the killing of Jason Fox.

The suspects are also facing other charges related to Fox’s killing and to the concealment of his body, which was found buried in a shallow grave on private property Nov. 5.

While his co-defendants are being held in Pend Oreille County jail on $750,000 bail, Hillestad’s bond was set at $1 million during his initial appearance in District Court.

His attorney, Carson Van Valkenburg, argued in Superior Court on Friday that Hillestad’s bail should be lowered to $450,000 and that he should be placed on house arrest with his mother in Blanchard, Idaho.

Van Valkenburg cited his client’s slim criminal record, which includes convictions on three misdemeanors in 2012, as well as his track record of appearing for court cases and an interview with law enforcement to press for a lower bail amount.

Judge Lech Radzimski, however, declined Van Valkenburg’s request.

Radzimski said Hillestad had demonstrated he “has no problem” engaging in activities that “interfere in the administration of justice.”

According to court documents, Radzimski noted, Hillestad has been accused of threatening a witness “with a firearm that they were not to make any statements” and of “hiding” Fox’s vehicle in Libby, Montana, after his death. Hillestad also “refused” to leave his cell in the Pend Oreille County jail and make his first court appearance, Radzimski said, suggesting he is willing to be uncooperative.

Merritt’s attorney did not object to his client being held on $750,000 bail.

Trial for the four defendants has been set for early February.

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