33 year-old Francis Crowley, the man accused of driving a vehicle deep into the woods near Lolo Hot Springs Resort and abandoning a four month-old baby, appeared in Missoula District Court on Tuesday and surprised prosecutors with a change of plea.

Deputy County Attorney Brittany Williams said the hearing was intended to be a final pretrial conference.

“The hearing was supposed to be a final pretrial conference, however it actually turned out to be a change of plea,” said Williams. “I filed amended information and Mr. Crowley changed his plea on several counts. To count one, assault on a minor, he pled no contest. He pled guilty to count two which is felony criminal endangerment. Count three which is endangering the welfare of a child, he continued his not guilty plea to that which will remain until sentencing. Count four which was child criminal endangerment, he pled guilty to that, as well.”

Williams briefly described the circumstances of the case.

“In June of 2018, Missoula County Sheriff’s deputies were called out to Lolo Hot Springs where Mr. Crowley was involved in an altercation,” she said. “He had been tasked with caring for a four month-old baby and drove a vehicle with the child inside deep into the woods, where he abandoned the child. Crowley was high on methamphetamine at the time. The baby was dressed only in a onesie and was left in the woods covered with sticks. Forest Service, Missoula County Sheriff’s Deputies and Montana Highway Patrol personnel search for the child in the dark and miraculously found the baby, cold but alive.”

Williams said each felony count against Crowley carries a maximum 10 years in the Montana State Prison with a possible $50,000 fine.

He will be sentenced on March 12 in Missoula District Court.

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