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Moorhead murder, arson trial set to start Monday

Justin Critt1 / 2
Melissa Willcoxon2 / 2

MOORHEAD — The trial of a man accused of beating a Moorhead woman to death and then setting ablaze the home she was housesitting starts Monday, Dec. 4., in Clay County District Court.

Justin Marshall Critt, 40, is accused of killing Melissa Willcoxon, 49, with a hammer on June 28, 2016, at 1019 11th Ave. S. He faces charges of second-degree murder and first-degree arson.

Critt has prior criminal convictions in Minnesota and North Dakota, including arson, assault and possession of drug paraphernalia.

A Nov. 28 court filing said many of those convictions can't be offered into evidence, but Judge Michelle Lawson noted that if Critt testifies, convictions not previously allowed can then be used to challenge his truthfulness.

Lawson is also allowing hearsay statements made by Willcoxon to three women on the day of her death.

According to court documents:

Police went to the home June 28 on a report of an intoxicated man. Officers found Critt on a bed in the basement. Critt left the home and tried to take power tools and a bike, but was told to leave them. Police left about 3 p.m.

Critt then asked the woman who owned the home if he could get his property, and Willcoxon called the woman to say Critt had returned.

A witness told police he saw a man run from the house about 4:15 p.m. and ride away on a bicycle, carrying a sack.

Shortly after 4:30 p.m., firefighters were dispatched to a fire at the house and found Willcoxon's body.

Critt was detained and denied setting the fire or killing Willcoxon. But an acquaintance of Critt told detectives Critt said he had killed someone.

Investigators found a hammer near Willcoxon's body. Autopsy results showed Willcoxon had a head injury consistent with a hammer strike.

A lab test confirmed a splatter mark on Critt's shirt was Willcoxon's blood, court documents said.

Helmut Schmidt

Helmut Schmidt was born in Germany, but grew up in the Twin Cities area, graduating from Park High School of Cottage Grove. After serving a tour in the U.S. Army, he attended the University of St. Thomas in St Paul, Minn., graduating in 1984 with a degree in journalism. He then worked at the Albert Lea (Minn.) Tribune and served as managing editor there for three years. He joined The Forum in October 1989, working as a copy editor until 2000. Since then, he has worked as a reporter on several beats, including education, Fargo city government, business and military affairs. He is currently The Forum's K-12 education reporter.

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