CLARK COUNTY, Wash. — The man accused of killing a Vancouver mother and her young daughter last month pleaded not guilty during a formal arraignment Monday morning in Clark County Superior Court in Vancouver.
Kirkland Warren, 27, appeared via Zoom from his jail cell during Monday's arraignment. He'll remain in custody, without bail, until his next court appearance, which is scheduled for next month.
The bodies of 27-year-old Meshay Melendez and her 7-year-old daughter, Layla Stewart, were found March 22, dumped off a road in a remote part of Washougal, Washington. Investigators said both had been shot in the head. Prosecutors say Warren, Melendez's ex-boyfriend, is responsible for the killings.
Family spokesperson and domestic violence victims advocate Michelle Bart spoke to the media Monday morning outside the courthouse following the arraignment.
"We know he is guilty," Bart said. "There is no shadow of a doubt in any of the family's mind or in our organization, or the prosecutor's mind as well. ... He can say he's not guilty, but the discovery is beyond measure, so we'll do what we have to do to get justice for the girls."
Family and friends were there with Bart and expressed their frustration.
"We're angry. We're hurt," said Shay, who said she's a family member but declined to give her last name. "Everybody's hurt. Everybody's angry. You can question it all day long why he did what he did. He's sick. Everybody's angry."
"Just heartbroken for my friend," said Tara Verde-Trejo, who said she's the best friend of Nichole Morris, Melendez's mother and Stewart's grandmother.
At a vigil at Vancouver's Esther Short Park the weekend after Melendez and Stewart's bodies were found, hundreds came out to remember and honor them. The vigil was also a call to action to fix a system that many believe failed the mother and daughter.
Warren was out on bail from a long-delayed murder trial in Arkansas. And here in Clark County, despite a domestic violence restraining order for allegedly shooting up Melendez's apartment, Warren was not monitored with available GPS tracking.
After Monday's arraignment, family members and friends repeated the call for better protection for victims of domestic violence.
"They should have been protected," Shay said. "They should have been protected a lot more. We've had a ton of domestic violence victims just in the last six months who weren't protected. They're not protected. [Domestic violence] has never really been taken seriously. The restraining orders are false security blankets. He was released with no GPS in the first place. We're angry. There's no protection. Something needs to be done."
On Wednesday, 27-year-old Meshay Melendez and her 7-year-old daughter, Layla Stewart, will be laid to rest in Vancouver after a private funeral service. Organizers said Meshay and Layla will be buried together in the same casket.