Trial for suspect accused of murdering Newport teen nearly begins in a mistrial

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Credit: cmh2315fl via Flickr

NEWPORT, Wash — A Pend Oreille County murder trial almost became a mistrial on its first day.

Riley Hillestad is accused of murdering 19-year-old Jason Fox in 2020. He was one of four people arrested.

Hillestad faces nine charges: first- and second-degree murder, first-degree manslaughter, unlawful disposal of human remains, failure to notify the coroner, unauthorized concealment of a body, second-degree taking a motor vehicle without permission, tampering with physical evidence and making false statements to police.

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Pend Oreille County Prosecutor Dolly Hunt, is arguing for Hillestad to be charged as principal or as an accomplice to murder.

“’22 Yergens Road, just in case something happens to me,'” she said in her opening statements. “This would be the last text Jason Fox sends to his family or friends on the early hours of September 15, 2020.”

Defense attorney Brooke Hagara believes Hillestad is innocent.

“We’re going to be asking that you find Mr. Hillestad not guilty of first-degree murder, the lesser included charges of second-degree murder, and first-degree manslaughter, and unlawful disposal of human remains,” Hagara told the jury.

After the 10:30 break, the court became aware that members of the jury may have come into contact of a parked car that had writing on it related to the case.

“If this continues, obviously my argument is going to be that this is inflammatory” Hagara said. “It’s purposely inflammatory and Mr. Hillestad is not able to get a fair trial if the jurors are viewing that. It could potentially blow up the whole case and we’d have to start over.”

The car was later determined to be owned by Pepper Fox who is the victim’s mom.

“My 19-year old son was brutally murdered by his friends after coming out as gay in Newport, Washington 99156. Everyone has a right to love and to be loved. #JusticeforJasonFox,” is just some of what is written on the car.

A surveillance video showed one juror came into contact with the car.

Defense attorney Hagara did ask the judge to dismiss the juror from the trial.

The judge overruled that request, since it took him 25 seconds to read the writing on the car aloud, and the juror didn’t have enough time to even read the car silently.

The trial will resume as normal for Hillestad on Monday. Many witnesses have yet to take the stand, including Matthew Raddatz-Freeman who faces first-degree manslaughter charges in the same case.

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