BRUSH PRAIRIE, Wash. — A fifth person was arrested and charged with murder in connection to the killing of a 34-year-old man who was left in a Brush Prairie shed for a week in April before police found his body.
Traci Mendez, 41, lived on the property where Raymond Brandon was murdered and left in a shed on April 20. She was charged Wednesday with first- and second-degree murder.
The four other suspects — 39-year-old Neil Alway, 31-year-old Ashley Lorraine Barry, 43-year-old John Michael West and 23-year-old Ashley L. Wideman — were charged in May with several crimes, including first-degree murder, first-degree kidnapping and first-degree robbery.
Mendez’s bail is $500,000. She will be back in court Aug. 15. The other co-defendants are scheduled for trial this fall, according to The Columbian.
Court documents state that Mendez "participated in the planning and execution of an armed robbery leading to the murder of Ray Brandon and the theft of his firearm and the vehicle he was driving."
Detectives believe the motive for murder was related to a Subaru Forrester belonging to another woman who was friends with Mendez. Brandon may have taken the car from another home and had been driving it for several weeks, court documents said.
Clark County investigators said in May that Alway, Barry, West and Widerman went to 15308 Northeast 172nd Avenue in Brush Prairie on the morning of April 20 and hid until Brandon arrived at the home with his girlfriend, Allison Fields.
Mendez lived at the property where the murder occurred. Her husband also lived there, but was not home at the time of the murder. Mendez had been letting Brandon and Fields come to the home for days prior to the day of the murder to let them use her shower while her husband was at work.
On April 20, the day of the murder, she invited the two into her home, knowing that the other four suspects were hiding in a back bedroom with the plan to beat up Brandon, rob him and get the Subaru back.
Mendez knew that both Alway and West had reputations for being violent, detectives said, and was aware that they were planning to assault and rob Brandon. A witness told detectives that Mendez said Brandon was coming over to her house and that he planned to "assault and rob Ray before leaving him stranded, naked in the woods."
Mendez was friends with the woman who owned the Subaru, who was called "Mom" by her friends, according to court documents. She also knew the other four suspects and Brandon, detectives say.
Ten days before the murder, on April 10, Mendez sent a message to Barry that read, "I know where he is at. He has no money to things. I am 42 and know how thinks work. I will use everything I have in my power to get Mom what's hers. I will put it on my skin thought that she deserves loyalty & follow threw." Barry answered back, "OK I will help u in any way I can k."
Detectives believe the message sent from Mendez to Barry indicates that Mendez was planning with Barry to get her friend's car back from Brandon and that she helped arrange for everyone to be at her home when the murder took place.
After the couple entered the house on April 20, they were confronted at gunpoint by Alway, who took away a firearm Brandon had brought with him. Brandon and Fields were ordered to take off their clothes and Brandon was led out into the backyard.
Fields told detectives she was held against her will inside the house while Alway and West took Brandon outside. She said she heard Brandon screaming her name while he was being hit by some sort of object in the backyard. Fields said she could tell he was in pain by the way he was yelling. After what she said felt like a long time, Fields heard a gunshot and Brandon's screaming stopped. He was not seen alive again.
Fields said that's when the suspects came back into the house and said they had to leave quickly. They tied Fields' hands with a zip tie and tried to leave, but the car Alway and West had drove to Mendez's house was stuck in Mendez's yard. They wanted to drive the Subaru, but couldn't find the keys.
Mendez drove the four suspects and Fields in her white SUV from the crime scene to a place called "The Farm," on Northeast 119th Street in Vancouver, according to court documents.
The probable cause document for Mendez's arrest only said that Fields was able to escape. Court documents filed in May, however, provided more information on how she was able to get away.
The suspects took Fields to a trailer on the property and removed her zip tie. court documents said. Fields told detectives she heard Alway making comments about feeding Brandon's body to pigs on the farm.
Court documents said Alway wanted to keep the Subaru but he needed to fix a broken window. Fields told the group that her father had a replacement window and Alway agreed to drive Fields to look for her father.
Court documents said Barry told Fields that the only reason she wasn't already dead was because Barry knew Fields' father.
As Barry walked Fields down the street toward her grandmother's house to look for her father, Field spotted him outside the house and ran toward him to escape. Barry started to follow, but stopped when she saw Fields' father, court documents said.
Fields went to police and told them what happened.
On April 27, deputies found Brandon's body hidden in a shed on a nearby property. The man at home said he had no idea the body was there, and allowed deputies to search the area. The charging documents for Mendez say Mendez lied to her husband about Alway's car being stuck in their yard.
A witness told detectives that Mendez said she was afraid to look in the shed in her backyard and that she knew Brandon's body was in the shed. She did not contact law enforcement.
Vancouver police while arresting Alway recovered a handgun that investigators believe may have been used to kill Brandon.
West also had a handgun on him when he was arrested. Detectives believe the gun was taken from Brandon before he was killed.
The silver Subaru was later recovered from the home of the woman who owned the car.