Three Warm Springs tribal members appeared in federal court Friday on murder charges in a pair of killings on the Warm Springs Indian Reservation last week – and one suspect faces charges in both of what prosecutors say were otherwise unrelated homicides.
The U.S. Attorney's office says tribal members Tana Chris Lawrence, 20, and Angeledith Saramaylene Smith, 25, pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder charges during their arraignment in Portland Friday afternoon before U.S. Magistrate Judge Janice Stewart.
The charge carries a maximum penalty of life in prison, prosecutors said.
The grand jury indictment, issued Wednesday, alleges Smith and Lawrence murdered Faron Kalama, 30, on Sept. 29 during the course of a burglary, a kidnapping and a sexual assault.
Lawrence and Smith were arrested last week and had been held in tribal custody.
The grand jury also indicted Curtis Lamonte Brown, 38, another tribal member, as an accessory to that murder, accusing him of aiding the two women to help them avoid apprehension. Assistant U.S. Attorney Craig Gabriel says Warm Springs police and the FBI arrested him Thursday night, and he too entered not-guilty pleas during his initial court appearance Friday.
Kalama’s body was found a week ago, several days after the body of Jonas Andrew Miller, 33, was found Sept. 30 on the reservation – and prosecutors said Friday that Brown has been charged with second-degree murder and a firearms charge in the killing of Miller, who was fatally shot in the head.
All three defendants were ordered detained in federal custody. Lawrence and Smith are due for trial Dec. 18 before U.S. District Judge Anna Brown. Brown's next court appearance was set for Oct. 29.
“These homicides are a deep tragedy for the victims’ families and for the entire Warm Springs community,” said U.S. Attorney Amanda Marshall. “My office, together with tribal and federal law enforcement, will devote the necessary resources to bring these defendants to justice.”
In an affidavit supporting the charges related to Miller, FBI special agent Daniel Baringer said Miller’s body was found Sept. 30 on a dirt path about 250 yards from County Line Road on the reservation.
Earlier that day, Baringer said Warm Springs police received a missing person’s report from Miller’s mother, Sharon Miller, who said she had not seen him for a week.
During a subsequent interview, Sharon Miller said her son owned several rifles, including an assault rifle he had bought “in a parking lot somewhere” that was missing.
An Oct. 2 autopsy by state Deputy Medical Examiner Dr. Larry Lewman determined Jonas Miller was killed by a gunshot wound to the head, and positively identified the victim, the FBI agent said. An investigation determined the body had been at the spot where it was found for about a week.
In the affidavit. Baringer said a witness, whom he did not identify but labeled as “Witness 1,” was interviewed on Thursday, after several people told investigators he and the victim had been seen together on Sept. 23.
The witness told the FBI that Miller owned an assault rifle and that he and Miller had been at a home in the Miller Heights area of Warm Springs, and that Miller and Brown left the house together in a white car he learned belong to Brown.
Also on Thursday, the FBI agent said he interviewed Brown at the Warm Springs Police Department and that he “talked about the incident and eventually confessed to shooting Jonas Miller, as well as discarding evidence of the crime.”
Baringer said that “Brown gave many inconsistent and contradictory versions of events,” but eventually laid 0ut a sequence of events, which began with Jonas Miller flagging him down in the Elliot Heights area and asking for a ride back to his home on Mount Jefferson Drive.
Along the way, Brown told the FBI agents Miller had asked if he wanted to buy a rifle that he was selling,” but that such talk made Brown nervous – since as a convicted felon, he’s not allowed to own guns.
The FBI agent said Brown told him he’d parked in the driveway while Miller went in and retrieved an AK-47-type rifle with a folding stock, offering to sell it for $300. Brown said he only had $50, but gave it to Miller, agreeing to pay him the rest after pay day.
Brown said he drove back to a home in Elliott Heights, where Miller got out briefly and askied a few people if they wanted to buy one of his other guns.
Brown told FBI agents he then drove out to the area of County Line Road to test-fire the gun. But on the way there, Brown claimed Miller pointed the rifle at his head and reminded him of an altercation they’d been in years before. With the stereo turned up, he said he could not hear if Miller was pulling the trigger.
When they got to the destination, Brown told FBI agents they got out and Miller handed Brown the rifle.
“Brown said he thought he remembered a magazine being loaded into the rifle,” the FBI agent wrote in the affidavit. “Brown pointed the rifle at the back of Miller’s head and pulled the trigger. The rifle fired, and Miller fell on the ground.”
“Brown claimed that the shooting was an accident, and ‘he didn’t know if (the rifle) was loaded or not,’” Baringer wrote.
Afterward, Brown said he looked on the ground, picked up the spent bullet casing and left, throwing it out of his car while driving home.
The FBI agent said Brown told him he contacted his cousin the next morning, gave him the rifle and asked him to “get rid of it.” But apparently he didn’t, as Baringer said Warm Springs police contacted Brown’s cousin on Thursday, and he turned the rifle over to them.