4 charged in burglary, murder of 55-year-old man in rural Dakota County

Four people have been charged in connection with the murder of a 55-year-old man in rural Dakota County earlier this month. 

Ryann Smith, 22, of White Bear Lake is charged with second-degree murder and Nicholas Taylor, 29, of St. Paul is charged with second-degree murder and first-degree burglary in connection with the death of Chris Lafontaine in Greenvale Township on July 2. Stephanie Peabody, 25, of Welch and Timothy Tuit, 36, of South St. Paul have both been charged with aiding and offender and first-degree burglary for their roles in Lafontaine's death. 

According to the charges, on July 2 at 4:45 p.m., Dakota County sheriff’s deputies were dispatched to a burglary in progress at a home in Greenvale Township. The 911 caller reported two men ran out of the house when a neighbor knocked on the door to check on the homeowner, Lafontaine. Another neighbor got into his vehicle to look for the men. He saw two men come out of the ditch and get into a large white SUV belonging to the victim. 

When deputies entered the victim’s home, they found him dead in the bathroom. His hands and feet were bound together with cables, which were wrapped around his hands, feet and mouth. A rag and glove were covering his mouth. 

The medical examiner’s autopsy determined Lafontaine had been suffocated. 

Shortly after discovering Lafontaine’s body, Northfield police officers located his vehicle. They tried to stop the vehicle, but it fled. Eventually, the vehicle stopped and all three occupants got out and fled into a wooded area. 

The driver, identified as Peabody, and one of the passengers, identified as Tuit, were taken into custody. The third occupant of the vehicle, later identified as Taylor, fled on foot. He was arrested last week in Montana, along with Ryann Smith. 

Smith and Taylor admitted to tying up a man and hitting him in the head with a flashlight. Video footage from Lafontaine’s house shows both suspects with Lafontaine in his house early in the morning on July 1. A phone found in the victim’s car, believed to belong to Tuit, shows conversations about the details of their plan and what occurred at the house. 

Peabody told investigators she was Tuit’s girlfriend and that Tuit and Taylor were brothers. 

Tuit made his first court appearance on Monday. The other three suspects charged in the case, Peabody, Smith and Taylor, were charged by warrant last week. They have not appeared in court on this case yet.