A jury found Jordan Everett Stevens guilty of first-degree murder on Thursday night in the shooting murder of Alillia “Lala” Minthorn in a remote area of the Yakama reservation more than two years ago.
Stevens was charged in the US District Court. The jury also found him guilty of firing a firearm when committing a crime.
Witnesses said Stevens shot 25-year-old Minthorn on May 3, 2019 because she had talked to FBI agents about an incident in which he was involved.
O trial started monday and the federal government closed the case on Thursday. Final discussions followed on Thursday afternoon.
Stevens remained calm as the verdict was read and confirmed by jurors in a subsequent jury vote.
A Sept. 1 sentencing hearing has been scheduled.
Two hours earlier, federal prosecutor Ben Seal and defense attorney Ulvar Klein completed the four-day murder trial by taking the jurors through the depositions again.
Seal reiterated the testimony of two key witnesses – Jasmine McCormack and Samantha Tainewasher, Minthorn’s cousin.
Both said they caught Minthorn at the Toppenish homeless camp known as the compound and drove to a Union Gap cemetery, where Tainewasher jumped in to visit his mother and brother’s graves. She returned and found McCormack beating Minthorn.
Tainewasher said she told her to stop, and then Stevens hit Minthorn in the face several times with a rifle butt.
Tainewasher jumped into the driver’s seat of his SUV and drove them to a remote, gated area of the Yakama reservation north of Brownstown. They all left and Stevens shot Minthorn, said Tainewasher and McCormack.
McCormack said he thought her blood fouled Minthorn, so she went back and stripped off her clothes.
Stevens refused to testify. The weapon used was never recovered.
Seal said Tainewasher and McCormack were on one side of the vehicle when they left, while Sevens and Minthorn were on the other.
“Samantha was told to look the other way,” Seal said. “And she looked and saw her cousin’s lifeless body lying on the ground.”
Seal ran through the list of expert witnesses, including a coroner who concluded that Minthorn died from a single gunshot wound to the head.
“We know who was present and why – he shot and killed Alillia,” Seal told jurors.
Klein attacked the government’s case in his closing argument, saying the focus unfairly was only on Stevens and suggested that federal investigators promised settlements to McCormack and Tainewasher in upcoming cases on unrelated matters.
Klein said McCormack and Tainewasher were unreliable witnesses whose testimony did not prove beyond guilt a reasonable doubt. Both admitted using drugs and drinking on the day Minthorn was killed.
“You have to make the decision based on the testimony of heroin and methamphetamine addicts,” he told jurors. “The only thing you have to work with is Jasmine and Samantha.”
He pointed to the memory problems McCormack had at the start of the investigation, when she told a federal agent she couldn’t remember whether they were in a sedan or SUV when Minthorn was killed.
“How can you overcome reasonable doubt with people who can’t remember if they were in a Yukon or a sedan?” Klein asked.
Klein also made sure Tainewasher called the police to report the theft of his SUV when McCormack and Stevens left with him, but made no mention of his cousin’s death that day.
“Was the truck more valuable than Alillia? That day it was,” Klein said. “She valued her truck more than Alillia.”
Klein suggested that McCormack was the sniper in Minthorn’s death.
He said McCormack saw Minthorn talking to police at the compound, possibly about an incident in which she and Stevens were involved.
After the shooting, they drove to Taverna Brownstown, where they met owner Tim Castilleja.
Castilleja, who rented a room to McCormack for about a year and once dated Tainewasher’s mother, had to be arrested and put on trial Testify.
He told the jury that McCormack was cleaning the Yukon after they showed up the day Minthorn was killed. Castilleja told the judges “she looked at me and said she did it – she really did it”.
Castilleja did not elaborate on what he thought this might mean, although tears welled up in his eyes when he was asked about it.
Klein said it was a confession.
“She said ‘I finally got it.’ She was talking about the murder,” Klein said in closing.
Klein also said the coroner’s report does not match Tainewasher’s story about Stevens repeatedly hitting Minthorn in the face with a gun butt.
Jurors showed photos of Minthorn’s body, and a forensic pathologist testified that she did not appear to have suffered a facial fracture.
“There were no facial or nasal fractures,” Klein said. “But ask yourself, the body lying on its back, did the face look collapsed?”
In response, Seal assured jurors that there were no special arrangements with McCormack and Tainewash to testify, only that McCormack received immunity for having her own testimony used against her in future matters.
Seal told jurors that McCormack and Tainewash were afraid of Stevens and didn’t speak up until they were sober and safe.
McCormack was in Klickitat County Jail after a chase in a stolen car. Tainewash was in Spokane.
In addition, he said it was McCormack who took FBI agent Clint Barefoot to Minthorn’s body.
“If Jasmine is a liar, how did she take Agent Barefoot directly to the body?” Seal said. “This is very powerful evidence that Jasmine is telling the truth.”
Seal defended the allegations that Barefoot unfairly pursued Stevens as a suspect and maintained his frequent contact with McCormack as a witness.
Seal said keeping witnesses in reserve is difficult at best, and pointed to Castilleja’s reluctance to testify as an example.
“If Barefoot hadn’t been successful, Alillia’s body would never have been found and she would still be a missing Indian woman.”