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Man who left 'miracle' baby in woods near Lolo Hot Springs changes plea
Lolo Hot Springs

Man who left 'miracle' baby in woods near Lolo Hot Springs changes plea

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The man who left a 5-month-old baby in the woods outside Lolo Hot Springs last year, spurring an hours-long multi-agency search and valiant rescue, pleaded guilty to the deed Tuesday morning in Missoula District Court. 

Francis Carlton Crowley, 33, pleaded guilty on Tuesday to criminal endangerment and child criminal endangerment. He also entered a "no contest" plea to the charge of assault on a child. The plea does not admit guilt, but rather concedes prosecutors would have likely secured a conviction at trial.

His sentencing is set for March 12.

One charge was dropped as part of the agreement, endangering the welfare of a child, which filed last month. After Crowley was initially charged, authorities tested one of the infant's hair follicles, which came back positive for methamphetamine. 

The change of plea comes at the same time prosecutors leveled a new charge against Crowley Tuesday, that of child criminal endangerment. The charge stems from Crowley driving into the woods while he was high on methamphetamine and bath salts.

Crowley was reportedly still high when he wandered into the Lolo Hot Springs area threatening people and talking about a lost baby. His statements were reportedly erratic: the baby had been buried, or he had found the baby buried, or he could see the baby's arms reaching up to him. Ultimately, Crowley's daze left him unable to assist anyone in the search on a night that saw temperatures drop to about 46 degrees.

A blitz of agencies, including the U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, Montana Highway Patrol and Missoula County Sheriff's deputies launched a ground search, eventually finding Crowley's vehicle and a bread-crumb trail of items that led up a slope. There, the faint sound of a baby led searchers to the boy face-down, buried under a pile of sticks and debris. 

Two law enforcement officers found the boy at 2:30 a.m. on July 8. Authorities estimated he'd been in the woods for about nine hours.

"The only thing I can say about this whole thing is, it was a miracle," said Ross Jessop, a Missoula County Sheriff's deputy who found the baby in searching with Lolo National Forest law enforcement officer Nick Scholz, at the time. 

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