- Associated Press - Tuesday, January 17, 2017

KALISPELL, Mont. (AP) - A Flathead County man has been sentenced to 110 years in prison for the stabbing death of a man that a witness testified was chased around in the woods while he begged for his life.

Robert Wittal, 29, was sentenced Tuesday for the May 26 death of Wade Rautio, 35. Wittal was convicted of deliberate homicide in October.

District Judge Robert Allison said the methamphetamine-related case was one of the most horrific murders he’s encountered.

“The motives behind this and the way in which it was done,” Allison said. “Essentially, torturing this individual who was running around in the woods at night, begging for his life and being slowly hacked to death over a period of, I think the testimony was some 20 or 30 minutes, I can’t for the life of me imagine a more gruesome end.”

Wittal denied any involvement in Rautio’s murder and said his co-defendants had set him up.

Prosecutors have said David Vincent Toman, 21; Christopher Michael Hansen, 28; and Melissa Ann Crone, 29, helped Wittal plan and kill Rautio. The three co-defendants face trial in March on charges of accountability to deliberate homicide. All have pleaded not guilty.

More than two weeks after Rautio was killed, Toman reported the murder and led deputies to Rautio’s body, court records said.

Prosecutors told jurors that Wittal killed Rautio in his role as an enforcer for Crone, a drug dealer.

Wittal testified that Crone wanted Rautio dead because she believed he had stolen from her and to demonstrate her power. Wittal testified he warned Rautio to leave town.

An autopsy found Rautio had been stabbed about 25 times with cuts that punctured a lung and severed his carotid arteries and jugular vein.

“My son’s gone, I will never get a call from him again,” his mother, Tomi Rautio testified. “His birthday was here, I had nobody to say happy birthday to. My birthday came, I got no call from him . I’ll never get a call from him again.”

Allison said Wittal would have to serve 45 years in prison before being eligible for parole.

“This crime is a byproduct of the appalling drug culture here in the Flathead Valley,” he said. “This drug is becoming a cancer on this community.”

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