Tuesday, September 21, 2021
Sept. 21, 2021

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Man appears in court in connection with 2015 fatal robbery

By , Columbian Assistant Metro Editor

A Renton man allegedly involved in the 2015 robbery and shooting death of a Vancouver precious metals shop employee appeared Monday in Clark County Superior Court but refused to say anything.

Thomas Phillip Leae, 24, is facing charges of first-degree murder and first-degree robbery in the Nov. 25, 2015, slaying of 58-year-old Bentley Brookes of Camas. Brookes worked at Pacific Bullion Precious Metals, 701 Main St., in downtown Vancouver.

Leae’s girlfriend, 18-year-old Ailiana Siufanua of Des Moines, allegedly shot Brookes in the face during the robbery, while Leae acted as the getaway driver, court records state.

The couple fled and were on the lam for days before the stolen silver Honda Civic they were driving was spotted Nov. 30, 2015, on Interstate 5 in Glenn County, Calif., by a California Highway Patrol officer. A 40-mile, high-speed pursuit ensued, which ended when the stolen car left the road and struck a tree killing Siufanua, according to The Davis (Calif.) Enterprise.

In October, a California jury convicted Leae of second-degree murder, evading police and vehicle theft in connection with the fatal crash. He was sentenced to 25 years, eight months to life, The Davis Enterprise reported.

During his Monday court appearance, Leae refused to be screened for a court-appointed attorney or to answer any of the court’s questions. He remained silent and mostly hung his head. Judge David Gregerson appointed Tony Lowe to represent Leae anyway.

Because Leae is serving time in prison in California, Senior Deputy Prosecutor Kasey Vu asked that he be held here without bail. Gregerson granted the request.

Leae will be arraigned April 20.

Fatal shooting

At 11:50 a.m. Nov. 25, 2015, Vancouver police responded to Pacific Bullion Precious Metals for a man down from a possible gunshot wound. Upon arrival police discovered Brookes’ body lying on the floor in a pool of blood, according to an affidavit of probable cause filed in Clark County Superior Court.

Investigators downloaded footage from the store’s video surveillance. The footage shows a woman, later identified as Siufanua, enter the store shortly before 11:15 a.m. She is seen approaching the store’s glass case counter, and Brookes meets her from behind the counter, the affidavit states.

Siufanua quickly pulled out a pistol and pointed it at his face. Brookes raised both of his hands and moved from behind the counter to stand within feet of her. He tried to snatch the pistol from her but missed. Siufanua then shot him in the face, court records said.

She is seen stepping over Brookes’ body and walking behind the glass case. Police said Siufanua walked to a drawer, as if she knew what was inside of it, grabbed a handful of cash and stuffed it into her backpack. She then scooped up various items from the glass case and fled, according to the court document.

Investigators reviewed surveillance footage from Nov. 12 to Nov. 25, 2015, and noted suspicious activity on Nov. 12 and Nov. 18.

A man, later identified as Leae, came into the store Nov. 12 to carry out a transaction. He intently watched Brookes as he opened the drawer to retrieve money. Leae came back Nov. 18 with Siufanua to carry out another transaction. This time, Siufanua intently watched Brookes as he retrieved money from the drawer, the affidavit states.

After releasing suspect photos of Siufanua to the public, her parents came to the Vancouver Police Department on Nov. 30, 2015, to identify her. They told police Siufanua had recently disappeared with her boyfriend, Leae. They also identified Leae from surveillance footage, court records said.

That same day, the couple were spotted traveling in the stolen silver Honda southbound on I-5 in California, prompting the police pursuit and fatal crash.

Leae’s mother had told police the couple were at her place on Thanksgiving and talked about wanting to visit California and go to San Diego, according to the court document.

During a search of the Honda, authorities found antique silver home ware. The co-owner of the precious metals shop identified the items as being stolen, the affidavit states.

On Dec. 1, 2015, police learned a C-Tran bus with a front-mounted camera captured footage of the Honda about a block east from the precious metals shop on the day of the fatal robbery. The car’s license plate matched the license plate of the Honda in the fatal crash, court records said.

A tipster also later reported seeing a silver car, similar to the Honda, parked on the corner by the precious metals shop around the time of the fatal robbery. He said a man was seated in the driver’s seat, and a woman walked up and got in. They drove off, according to the court document.