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Final suspect in 2021 deadly Dakota County home invasion pleads guilty

The victim was found dead in his bathroom after a neighbor reported a burglary in progress at his home.
Chris Lafontaine

Chris Lafontaine

A 23-year-old White Bear Lake woman has pleaded guilty in connection to a home invasion and the death of a 55-year-old man in Greenvale Township in July 2021. 

Ryann Elizabeth Smith was initially charged with second-degree murder, but on Tuesday, March 1, she pleaded guilty to first-degree assault, a news release says. She will be sentenced on June 2.

Smith is the fourth and final person charged in the death of Chris Lafontaine to plead guilty. The others are: 

  • Nicholas Alan Taylor, 29, of St. Paul, who is Smith's boyfriend, pleaded guilty on Feb. 17 to second-degree murder and first-degree burglary and will be sentenced on June 2
  • Timothy Tuit, 36, of South St. Paul, pleaded guilty on Dec. 1, 2021, to aiding an offender and will be sentenced on May 11
  • Stephanie Marie Peabody, 25, of Welch, pleaded guilty on Dec. 1, 2021, to aiding an offender and will be sentenced on May 11

“We are pleased that Ms. Smith has taken responsibility for her role in the senseless death of Mr. Lafontaine. Our deepest sympathy is extended to Mr. Lafontaine’s family for their loss," Dakota County Attorney Kathy Keena said in a statement. 

According to a GoFundMe set up by the victim's sister, Chris LaFontaine was a father and grandfather who "was always there for people."

"He’d go out of his way to help a friend or neighbor in need. Which makes it even more difficult to learn that the people that killed him were at one point considered to be friends."

The case

According to the criminal complaint, deputies with the Dakota County Sheriff's Office responded to a report of a burglary in progress at a home in Greenvale Township at 4:45 p.m. on July 2, 2021.

A 911 caller said two men ran out of the home when a neighbor knocked on the door to check on Lafontaine. Another neighbor got into his car to look for the two men, spotting them coming out of a ditch and getting into Lafontaine's vehicle.

Deputies found the victim dead in a bathroom. His hands and feet were bound together with several cables, charges state. A rag and glove covered his mouth and were tied on with a cable.

An autopsy determined Lafontaine had ligature marks around his mouth, neck, feet and ankles, classifying it as an asphyxial-type death due to the items covering his mouth and the bondage, the complaint says.

About 10 minutes after the victim was found, Northfield police spotted the victim's vehicle driving southbound on Highway 3 and attempted to initiate a traffic stop, but they fled, charges state. Police pursued the vehicle until it stopped in a parking lot and all three people inside fled into a wooded area.

Police eventually arrested the driver, Peabody, and Tuit, who had been in the front seat, the complaint says. The third person in the vehicle was later identified as Taylor, who managed to evade capture.

Taylor and Smith were later arrested in Montana, officials said. 

In an interview with police, Peabody said she and Tuit are dating, Tuit and Taylor are brothers, and Taylor and Smith are dating.

Peabody admitted to using the victim's vehicle to drop Smith off at a gas station before driving Tuit and Taylor to the victim's home, the complaint says. She then parked on a dirt road until Tuit and Taylor called to have her pick them up by the ditch.

Peabody, who had four of the victim's checks in her possession when she was arrested, said she fled from police because Taylor told her to, charges said.

Peabody said Taylor and Smith had talked about having a "guy tied up," with Taylor saying he "tied him up so tight he could not get loose" and Smith sharing she hit him in the head with a Maglite flashlight because the victim wouldn't shut up, the complaint says.

Peabody said that when Taylor eventually told Smith the victim died, Smith panicked and started crying because she "didn't mean to hurt him like that," charges say.

Tuit told police he and Taylor went to the victim's house because it was a place where they could steal property and/or money, the complaint says. He admitted he had been "all over the house" and that Taylor told him they tied up the victim because he was getting "handsy" or "grabby" with Smith. When Tuit and Taylor fled the victim's home, Taylor told Tuit the victim might be dead and said he may have tied him up too tight, Tuit said.

When officers searched the victim's home they found a safe strapped to a dolly and other property arranged in piles, charges say.

The victim's home was equipped with video surveillance, which was disconnected when officers found it, court documents say. Footage that was captured shows Taylor, Smith and the victim in the home in the early hours of July 1, but the cameras go black and stop recording.

Police searched Tuit's phone, which was found in the victim's car, in which there were numerous conversations between him and Taylor about a plan to burglarize the victim's home, charges say.

In texts at 5 a.m. on July 1, Taylor says he's going to pick up Tuit and his girlfriend to load all the property in vehicles, adding "you won't need to worry, I'm gonna have him tied up and stripped in the basement bathroom in a way he won't be able to move at all." Taylor also told Tuit the "security system is already down," the complaint states.

Taylor told Tuit they'd split the proceeds of their burglary 60/40 and Tuit said, "I'm down," charges say. At 1:37 a.m. on July 2, Taylor texts Tuit saying, "you know I want to get those boxes picked up and have that thing disposed of and then have the whole area incinerated."

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