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Missoula motel murder suspect says meth fueled attacks; accomplice provides details

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Scott Austin Price and Sarah Rae McKnight

MISSOULA — A man with white supremacist ties who’s charged with murders 500 miles apart in Montana told investigators he was on methamphetamine when he stabbed a Missoula motel housekeeper to death Monday.

Warrants were issued Thursday in Missoula County for the arrests of Scott Austin Price, 37, and Sarah Rae McKnight, 32, who've been in custody in Kootenai County jail in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, since Tuesday.

McKnight told detectives she was Price’s accomplice in knife attacks that left 56-year-old Lonette Keehner dead in a room at the Super 8 motel on Brooks Street and another Missoula woman wounded in the parking lot of the Missoula Fresh Market nearby.

Price was identified by authorities as a transient from Billings. McKnight’s arrest warrant said her last known residence was on Marten Creek Road in Trout Creek.

Both face five felony charges and $1 million bail in Missoula County. 

Price was also charged Thursday in the Dec. 14 stabbing death of 78-year-old Ed Martin in Miles City. He’d previously been charged with the assault and kidnapping of Martin’s wife, who was found beaten and locked in the basement.

Missoula County Attorney Kirsten Pabst said Thursday warrants from other jurisdictions complicate extradition and she didn’t know yet when Price and McKnight will appear in Missoula.

“The Missoula police did a great investigation under extreme time constraints to bring these two to justice,” Pabst said in an email. “The MPD worked cooperatively and efficiently with several other law enforcement jurisdictions to track these offenders and facilitate the arrests.”

According to Missoula County complaints filed in justice court by Pabst and Chief Deputy County Attorney Jason Marks, Price has confessed to killing Keehner.   

“He attributed his actions to his methamphetamine use," the complaint said. "He was unclear about what he had done in the Fresh Market parking lot but did admit to striking a woman while holding a knife in his hand."

McKnight provided Missoula detectives with an unsettling story of events leading up to and after Keehner’s murder.

According to charging documents, she said she’d met Price in Great Falls last week while she was there for an appearance in federal court.

“It was her understanding that Price was on the run after committing a murder in Miles City,” the complaint said. “She knew Price through her husband and, according to their presence on social media, all claimed white supremacist ties.”

McKnight said both she and Price were “regularly using methamphetamine through the ensuing events.”

The two drove McKnight’s dark-colored Honda to Missoula, where they determined they needed money and a more reliable vehicle. McKnight said they bought duct tape and zip ties with intentions to kidnap someone with a vehicle they wanted to steal. They planned to force their victim to disclose personal identification numbers for any debit cards they might have.

Their first attempt was in the parking lot of Fresh Market, formerly Safeway, on South Reserve Street. The unidentified victim told Missoula police she had finished shopping and putting her groceries in her car. A man later identified as Price was standing by the Honda, which was parked next to the woman’s vehicle.

When she walked around to the driver’s side door, Price was partially blocking her way. The woman told police she said “excuse me” and Price moved out of her way. When seated in the car she turned to her right to place her purse on the passenger seat.

“When she turned back around, Price was standing at her door,” the complaint read. “He then began stabbing her in the abdomen with a knife."

The victim said she didn't remember Price saying anything before he stabbed her. She screamed at him to stop and offered him her purse, thinking he was trying to rob her. But he got into the passenger side of the Honda. As the car slowly drove off, the wounded woman stepped from her vehicle and tried to read the license plate. She screamed for help and another female was able to take a photo of the Honda.

The victim, identified in charging papers as Jane Doe, was stabbed in the stomach above the diaphragm and also had two defensive stab wounds on her left hand. She was hospitalized and has since been released.

McKnight told detectives she was driving the Honda. She hadn’t heard Price’s exchange with the woman but knew that he’d stabbed her then got into McKnight’s car with a bloody knife and "told her to drive."

They crossed Brooks Street and parked behind the Super 8 motel then went inside looking for someone to rob in order to get a new car. They found Keehner cleaning a room and, according to the complaint, Price “physically assaulted Lonette and forced her to empty her pockets and describe her car.”

He took her car keys and hotel pass key, handed them to McKnight, and told her to open the door across the hall. Price forced Keehner into the other room as McKnight reassured a guest attracted by the noise that “everything was fine.”

She then went outside and transferred their belongings from the Honda to Keehner’s car. Price ran out of the motel, and they drove away in the stolen vehicle, identified by police as a red 2009 Chevy Malibu.

McKnight said Price told her he’d killed Keehner. As they drove through town, he threw a bloody knife out the window. Based on information provided by McKnight, the knife was recovered Wednesday by Missoula police on Stephens Avenue near its intersection with Franklin Street.

Price and McKnight were arrested in Idaho after a cooperative effort between Missoula and Coeur d’Alene police and the U.S. Marshals Service’s violent crime task forces from Montana, Idaho and Washington.

The Billings Gazette reported that Price has been sentenced for four felony convictions in Custer County. He was convicted of forgery and theft in February 1998, and criminal production or manufacture of dangerous drugs and theft in August 2013. The latter two sentences were partially suspended.

The Montana Department of Corrections' Offender Network website describes Price as a 5-foot-9, 185-pound man with multiple tattoos, among them a skull, barbed wire, devil head and a "tribal design." "Outlaw" is tattooed on his back, "Why" on his right arm, and "Try" on his left arm. 

He faces felony charges in Missoula County of deliberate homicide, attempted deliberate homicide, conspiracy to commit aggravated kidnapping, tampering with or fabricating physical evidence, and solicitation to commit a theft.

McKnight is not listed on the DOC offender website. She's also charged with deliberate homicide and conspiracy to commit aggravated kidnapping, as well as accountability for deliberate homicide, tampering with or fabricating physical evidence, and the theft of Keehner’s car.

Deliberate homicide, attempted deliberate homicide and accountability for attempted deliberate homicide are all punishable by not less than 10 or more than 100 years in Montana State Prison. A conviction of conspiracy to commit aggravated kidnapping carries a punishment of two to 100 years in prison.

Keehner had worked as a housekeeper at the Super 8 motel for 21 years, according to her obituary received Thursday by the Missoulian.

She grew up in Blackfoot, a small community near Browning, and received a degree in criminal justice from Dawson Community College in Glendive in 1983.

Keehner is survived by her husband of 28 years, Dave Keehner of Missoula, and three children. Services will be held Monday at 2 p.m. at Garden City Funeral Home. 

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