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April 17, 2021

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Man found guilty of murder in 2017 Hockinson killing over car debt

By , Columbian Breaking News Reporter
Published:

The primary defendant in the beating and fatal shooting of a man at a Hockinson property in April 2017 was convicted Thursday of murder, among other charges.

The Superior Court trial for Neil Allen Alway, 43, started about two weeks ago with jury selection carried out at the Clark County Event Center at the Fairgrounds, due to COVID-19 precautions.

Alway was found guilty of first- and second-degree murder, and two counts each of first-degree kidnapping and first-degree robbery.

Deputy Prosecutor Lauren Boyd said during her closing argument Wednesday that Alway was beating 34-year-old Raymond Brandon with another man, John Michael West, when he decided to kill Brandon and pulled the trigger on his gun.

“It was deliberate. It was thought out,” Boyd said.

Alway was the last of five defendants tied to the killing to maintain his innocence. West, 47, Ashley Lorraine Barry, 35, Ashley Wideman, 27, and Traci Lynn Mendez, 45, all accepted plea deals prior to Alway’s trial.

Barry was sentenced in August 2019 to about 13 years in prison. West, Mendez and Wideman entered into cooperation agreements with the prosecutor’s office that stipulated they testify against their co-defendants. The prosecutor’s office is recommending sentences of about 18 years, 11 years and time served, respectively.

Prosecutors say Alway conspired with the others to lure Brandon and his girlfriend, Allison Fields to the residence at 15308 N.E. 172nd Ave., to settle a debt over a Subaru Forester he was driving. Brandon’s body was found April 27, 2017, a week after he was killed there.

According to a probable cause affidavit, Brandon and Fields arrived at Mendez’s house on the morning of April 20, 2017, and were ambushed by the group. A chaotic confrontation ensued, and Alway and West led Brandon outside where he was attacked and fatally shot by Alway in the chest. Fields was forced to stay with the group or risk being killed herself.

Afterward, Mendez drove the group and Fields in her SUV to a farm off Northeast 119th Street, and Fields eventually escaped elsewhere, court records say.

The bullet Alway fired severed Brandon’s aorta, killing the man nearly instantly, Boyd said.

Alway had planned for months to assault and rob Brandon because he owed Alway money for the Subaru, which Brandon and Fields had been living out of for a few weeks. They’d been driving it to the Hockinson residence to shower, eat breakfast, and according to the defense, use drugs.

Drugs played a role in both the state’s and the defense’s closing arguments. After Alway fired the lethal shot, chaos followed; everyone involved was indecisive about who would clean up the mess, Boyd said.

“This was a sloppy job done by people who were on meth,” Boyd said.

The nature of the crime caused Alway to leave a trail of evidence, prosecutors said. When he was arrested days after April 20 – the day the state argued Brandon was killed – Alway was wearing the victim’s sweatshirt, which he’d been stripped of by force, and had the murder weapon in his possession.

Ballistics testing concluded the bullet retrieved from Brandon’s chest was a match to the firearm found on Alway, Boyd said. DNA from Alway and Brandon were detected on the gun, she said.

Defense attorney Tony Lowe used his closing argument to poke holes in the state’s version of events, arguing someone else carried out the killing. He said there was enough of a lack of evidence to create reasonable doubt in the jurors’ minds.

Lowe spoke of a person who searched the Hockinson residence on April 27 and discovered Brandon’s body. He said the individual took a cellphone photo and sent it around to various people, as a way to scare those in Brandon’s social circle.

He later clarified that Brandon had recently been recruited by local law enforcement as an informant; although, a detective who testified during the trial noted that Brandon was somewhat unreliable.

The defense attorney provided various other arguments. Investigators did not test a bloodstain on the wall of the shed that could have exonerated Alway, nor did they test the trigger of the murder weapon, which the state adamantly argued he had pulled. Lowe also argued his client was not at the house when the state alleged the murder happened, and by way of expert testimony, suggested Brandon was killed at a later date.

Lowe said everyone involved in the slaying was a drug addict at that time.

“These guys are high,” he said. “You need to keep that in mind.”

He argued that even considering the culture of drugs surrounding the case, no one would commit murder over a shoddy used car.

“All of that together suggests (Alway) was set up,” the defense attorney told jurors.

In a brief rebuttal, Senior Deputy Prosecutor Anna Klein said the evidence was overwhelming and pointed to the defendant. His life mattered, she said of Brandon.

“What may be a crummy Subaru to you and me, that was all (the victims) had. It was important to them,” Klein said.

Alway’s sentencing hearing is scheduled for May 7.

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