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Opening arguments begin for Jason Fox murder suspect

Opening statements began Friday after a four-day jury selection on the murder trial of Riley Hillestad, one of the suspects in the murder of Jason Fox.

PEND OREILLE COUNTY, Wash. — Opening arguments began Friday morning in the murder trial of Riley Hillestad, who is one of the suspects accused of killing Jason Fox in 2020. Jury selection for the trial started Monday and it lasted four days.

Hillestad is facing charges of first-degree murder, kidnapping, unlawful disposal of human remains and tampering with evidence, among other charges. He is the second suspect to go to trial for Fox's murder. 

Fox was found dead in an isolated area near Newport in October of 2020. Court documents say Fox's body was found buried three to four feet underground with his hands tied behind his back.

Other suspects include Matthew Raddatz-Freeman, Claude Merritt and Sean Bellah have also been arrested in connection to his death. Hillestad has been described as the ringleader who orchestrated the murder.

According to court documents, on Sept. 15, Fox sent a message to a person who lived with his aunt saying he would be at 22 Yergens “in case something happens to him” and he hadn’t spoken to any family members since. An emergency ping was conducted on his phone showing it at the Yergens address.

When law enforcement officers went to the location to see if Fox was there. They spoke with Hillestad, Raddatz-Freeman, Merritt and a woman who all lived at the location. Court documents say they each gave a different account of when they had last seen Fox, ranging from two months prior to one week prior.

In February 2022, a Pend Oreille Co. judge sentenced Merritt to nearly 28 years in prison for the murder and kidnapping of Fox. Merritt will get credit for time served and 36 months of community custody.

The trial for Hillestad will continue on Monday, June 13.

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