NEWPORT, Ore — The twisting case of a young girl discovered dead in a Lincoln City forest in late 2020 took another left turn this week, as county prosecutors dropped charges against the two women who were accused of causing her death.
The Oregonian/OregonLive was first to report the news on Saturday.
A passerby discovered the body of 9-year-old Haley Mae Coblentz inside of a duffle bag, stashed in the woods along the H.B. Van Duzer Scenic Corridor. It took nearly a year for investigators to even determine her identity.
Despite the investigative setbacks, police tracked down Coblentz's alleged killers soon after confirming her identity — arresting her mother, 29-year-old Shawna Browning, and 34-year-old Lauren Harrison. Both were located in Michigan.
On Nov. 24, Lincoln County prosecutors charged Browning and Harrison with aggravated murder, Oregon's most serious felony charge, for "unlawfully, intentionally and with premeditation" causing Coblentz's death.
Though Oregon has had a moratorium on the death penalty since 2011 — maintained by governors John Kitzhaber and Kate Brown — it remains a part of state law. Currently, aggravated murder is the only crime still punishable by death.
But on Thursday, Oregon senior assistant attorney general Kurt W. Miller, acting as special deputy district attorney, filed motions in Lincoln County Circuit Court to dismiss both cases "because the matter is under further investigation, and it would be in the furtherance of justice to dismiss at this point."
A judge granted the motions, and aggravated murder charges against Browning and Harrison were abruptly dismissed on Friday. No other charges have been brought in the case.
Since neither woman has been tried, the door remains open for prosecutors to again bring charges against Browning and Harrison for Coblentz's death, but it was not immediately clear what prompted the dismissals or what, if anything, has changed in the course of the investigation.
This is a developing story and will be updated with more details as they emerge.