Court docs: Newport teenager found buried with his hands tied behind his back
WARNING: The contents of this story are graphic in nature, read at your own discretion.
NEWPORT, Wash.— Court documents have revealed what led up to the death of 19-year-old Jason Fox, the Newport teenager found dead more than two weeks after he was reported missing.
According to documents, Jason Fox sent a text to someone on Sept. 15 and told them where he was “in case something happens.” The documents said he had not spoken to any other family or friends since he sent that text. The next day, Fox was reported missing by family members.
On Sept. 17, Pend Oreille County deputies spoke to some people at the address Fox sent in the text, 22 Yergens Road. They spoke to Matthew Raddatz-Freeman, Claude Merritt and Riley Hillestad. Documents say they all lived there, each one telling deputies when they supposedly last saw Fox. That ranged from two months to a week. Deputies later determined they all lied, and had seen Fox just after midnight on Sept. 15.
Before Fox was found dead, documents say Merritt told authorities that Fox and Raddatz-Freeman were seen arguing earlier that day. Raddatz-Freeman allegedly told Fox to leave. During later interviews, detectives determined this story was made up. Documents state Hillestad allegedly made up the story.
On Sept. 22, authorities in Montana said they found Fox’s car in the town of Libby. Phone records show Raddatz-Freeman’s phone was there on Sept. 15. He and Hillestad admitted to towing his car to Montana.
Documents state in social media records, Fox indicated concern about Hillestad being at the home in Newport, stating he wasn’t “down for drama.”
Deputies spent more than two weeks searching for Fox, before he was found on the property on Oct. 4. Documents say he was buried three to four feet into the ground with his hands behind his back. The medical examiner determined he died of blunt force trauma to the head.
On Nov. 7, the day arrests were made, four suspects were interviewed by the sheriff’s office.
Hillestad was interviewed first. He said he saw Raddatz-Freeman and Merritt beating Fox at 22 Yergens Road.
“He said he saw CL [Merritt] hit Jason twice and then he (Riley) walked out of the shop because it was not his fight,” documents explained.
Hillestad admitted to taking Fox’s car to Montana with Raddatz-Freeman. He said Merritt had covered up a big blood spot in the shop with a rug. Hillestad denied moving Fox’s body, but then stated that “if he dug the hole it would have been over the cab.”
Merritt was interviewed next. He told a similar story, but claimed he didn’t hit Fox. He said Hillestad and Raddatz-Freeman beat up Fox in the office of the shop. According to documents, he told detectives that they were hitting and kicking Fox. Merritt said he tried to stop them, but Hillestad threatened him and another suspect, Kevin Belding, with a gun.
Merritt said Raddatz-Freeman and Hillestad led Fox out the back door with his hands tied behind his back, documents described. That’s the last time he claims he saw Fox. Merritt claims he and Belding sat inside the shop and smoked weed. He allegedly heard a skid steer running outside during this time. Merritt claims Raddatz-Freeman told him the next morning that Fox was dead and they buried him.
Through the investigation, detectives discovered that Hillestad said on social media that he was bringing a skid steer to the property.
Belding was also interviewed, but was adamant that he left when Fox was told to leave the property on Sept. 15.
Raddatz-Freeman was later interviewed by authorities. Again, he claimed he was not involved. Raddatz-Freeman claims Hillestad and Merritt beat up Fox while he was sitting down in the office. He said Hillestad kicked Fox in the face. Documents say Fox sagged down when he was kicked. When he woke up, Raddatz-Freeman said Merritt kneed him in the face at least twice.
According to documents, Raddatz-Freeman said Fox was insulting Hillestad. Raddatz-Freeman said he went upstairs in the office, later went outside and heard the skid steer in the back of the property.
Raddatz-Freeman said he saw Merritt walk out of the shop with Fox. He also claims Fox had his hands tied behind his back with a yellow ratchet strap. Deputies say in court documents the way it was wrapped is consistent with how Fox was bound when they found his body.
Later in the interview, documents say Raddatz-Freeman told police he last saw Fox in the back of a UTV leaving with Merritt. That’s when he allegedly drove it to the back of the property. He later admitted to loading up Fox’s car with Hillestad and taking it to Montana.
All four of the suspects were arrested in connection to Fox’s murder between Nov. 7-8. Each of them appeared in a Pend Oreille County courtroom on Monday morning, except for Hillestad. A sergeant said he refused to leave his jail cell to appear in court.
Another suspect, Sean Bellah, was also arrested and faces charges of providing false or misleading statements.
Here are the charges the other men are facing:
Matthew Raddatz-Freeman, 28: 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 a false or misleading statement to a public servant.
Kevin Belding, 24 and Claude Merrit, 25: First and second-degree murder, first-degree manslaughter, unlawful disposal of human remains, unauthorized concealment of a body, failure to notify the coroner and making a false or misleading statement to law enforcement.
They are all being held on a $750,000 bail and are expected back in court on Nov. 16.
Charges against Hillestad are not known at this time as he did not show up for his first appearance.
Deputies also arrested Sean Bellah for providing false or misleading statements.
“Jason trusted these people”
Jason’s mother, Pepper Fox, said justice will be served. However, it won’t bring her son back.
“I want to know why. Why his life was worth it and why their life was worth it, too,” Fox said.
She knows two of the suspects and has seen them before while chatting with her son over Facetime.
“Jason trusted these people and he felt he could be himself around them and obviously he couldn’t.”
Fox said her son was gay and she feels he was murdered because of his sexual orientation.
“I don’t get to look forward to holidays, I don’t get to look forward to him buying a house and get married and all that’s gone.”
COPYRIGHT 2021 BY KXLY. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. THIS MATERIAL MAY NOT BE PUBLISHED, BROADCAST, REWRITTEN OR REDISTRIBUTED.