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'He's a demonic person': Convicted murderer, arsonist gets 44 years in Moorhead woman's slaying

Justin Marshall Critt1 / 2
Melissa Jayne Willcoxon2 / 2

MOORHEAD — A prosecutor read the statements of loved ones affected by Melissa Willcoxon's murder out loud Monday, July 9, in an otherwise silent courtroom filled with lawyers, reporters, court staff and law enforcement officials.

The 49-year-old woman's killer, Justin Critt, sat quietly as the statements were read on behalf of Willcoxon's friends and family — none of whom were in attendance.

At the hearing, Clay County District Judge Michelle Lawson ordered Critt to serve a maximum sentence of 40 years on a charge of second-degree murder for killing Willcoxon in the summer of 2016. Additionally, he received a four-year sentence for first-degree arson for burning down the house where she was staying.

Critt must spend at least two-thirds of his sentence behind bars. With good behavior, he will be eligible for supervised release for the remainder.

"We're satisfied completely with the sentence," said Brian Melton, Clay County attorney and prosecutor in the case.

When given the chance to speak, Critt told the judge he needed to learn to take responsibility for his actions and will spend his time in prison trying to do that. "I hope to be a much better man by my release," he said.

The statements from Willcoxon's friends and family painted her as a lively and loving person.

A statement from Amanda Ritch, Willcoxon's youngest daughter, said the two were starting to form a stronger relationship and had plans to meet that summer in Florida. Ritch's statement said she visited Moorhead during the trial hoping to find some closure but couldn't.

A statement from Willcoxon's younger brother, Maurice Dykes, said he does not forgive Critt for what he did. "He's a demonic person," Dykes said. "Please don't let Justin Critt hurt another family."

A statement from Willcoxon's boyfriend, Bill Headsten, said Critt never showed remorse during the investigation or trial, something that was reiterated in Ritch and Dykes' statements.

Bruce Ringstrom Jr., Critt's attorney, took responsibility for Critt's remorse or lack thereof. Ringstrom said he and Critt's previous attorney counseled Critt to remain quiet during hearings and proceedings.

Ringstrom said he would not be surprised if Critt appeals the sentence.

On June 28, 2016, Moorhead police responded to a report of an intoxicated man at 1019 11th Ave. S., the home where Willcoxon was house-sitting. They found Critt on a bed in the basement, according to court documents.

Critt, a handyman hired by the homeowners, left the house and asked if he could take his power tools and bicycle, but officers told him to leave them. He later called the owners to see if he could get his belongings back, court documents stated.

Later that day, at about 4:30 p.m., firefighters responded to a fire at the house and found Willcoxon's body with a hammer nearby. Witnesses later told police they saw a man run from the house about 4:15 p.m. and ride away on a bicycle.

The investigation revealed Willcoxon had called three friends complaining about a man who wouldn't leave the house and was harassing her. Willcoxon's friend Sheena Southerland recounted how Willcoxon called about 4 p.m. and told her that the man had returned and was "outside my windows, taunting me."

Police detained Critt, who denied setting the fire or killing Willcoxon, but an acquaintance of Critt's told detectives Critt said he had killed someone, court documents stated.

A lab test of a blood mark on Critt's clothing was confirmed to be Willcoxon's.

The ensuing trial brought to light new information in the case.

The prosecution claimed Critt killed Willcoxon and started a fire to cover up his crime. And Ringstrom told jurors police failed to investigate all possible avenues thoroughly.

Prosecutor Lori Conroy told jurors an investigation revealed the fire was intentionally set with a flammable liquid. Ringstrom said lab reports showed no gasoline residue was found on Critt's clothing.

On May 25, a jury of six men and six women took just over four hours to convict Critt after a two-week trial with testimony from friends, witnesses and law enforcement officials.

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