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Neighbors offer to settle suit against dead man’s estate

Crites | Payment of a ‘nominal amount,’ would end litigation

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A trio of neighbors that filed a lawsuit against a Birdseye man who was later murdered has offered to settle the case for a “nominal amount,” their attorneys said in a court filing Monday requesting a hearing on the damages they say they should be awarded.

Dennis Shaw, John Mehan and his wife, Katy Wessel, sued Michael Crites in April 2011, alleging harassment and threats by Crites in an ongoing dispute over access to land in the area.

Mehan also faces a felony charge of tampering with evidence in the murder investigation for allegedly removing surveillance cameras. He is free on $250,000 bond, posted with personal property including his and Wessel’s investment accounts and vehicles. He has an initial appearance in court scheduled Aug. 2.

Crites disappeared last summer and his remains were found near MacDonald pass in October but not positively identified until January. In the interim, a District Court clerk agreed with the neighbors that Crites had defaulted in the matter by failing to respond when served with the complaint, which the process server said occurred well before Crites disappeared.

A lawyer for Crites’ estate earlier this month asked the court to set aside that default, arguing that Crites was not properly served.

In the recent filing, lawyers for Mehan, Wessel and Shaw urged District Judge Kathy Seeley to let that default stand and proceed to a determination of damages. They acknowledged that part of the complaint, seeking to prevent future harassment, was moot because of Crites’ death.

“Thus the only issue here is the amount of previously-incurred damages that is appropriately awardable in a default setting against Mr. Crites,” the filing states. “We have told Mr. Crites’ counsel … that we do not see damages as being substantial and we have indeed offered to settle for a nominal amount.”

Reporter Sanjay Talwani: 447-4086 or sanjay.talwani@helenair.com or Twitter.com/IR_SanjayT

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