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News / Clark County News

Prosecutors will charge Warren with aggravated murder in shooting deaths of Meshay Melendez, daughter Layla

By Jessica Prokop, Columbian Local News Editor, and
Becca Robbins, Columbian staff reporter
Published: April 3, 2023, 4:52pm
5 Photos
Kirkland Warren, left, makes a first appearance on suspicion of murder in the deaths of his former girlfriend, Meshay Melendez, and her daughter, Layla Stewart, as attorney John Terry looks on at the Clark County Courthouse on Monday afternoon, April 3, 2023.
Kirkland Warren, left, makes a first appearance on suspicion of murder in the deaths of his former girlfriend, Meshay Melendez, and her daughter, Layla Stewart, as attorney John Terry looks on at the Clark County Courthouse on Monday afternoon, April 3, 2023. (Amanda Cowan/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

Clark County prosecutors say they plan to charge a Vancouver man accused in the slaying of his former girlfriend and her 7-year-old daughter with aggravated first-degree murder. If convicted, he would be sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Kirkland C. Warren, 27, appeared Monday in Superior Court on suspicion of two counts of first-degree murder in the shooting deaths of Meshay “Karmen” Melendez, 27, and Layla Stewart.

The Vancouver mother and daughter were last seen the morning of March 12 with Warren, who had been barred by court order from having contact with Melendez, according to investigators. Melendez’s mother reported the pair missing March 18 after she couldn’t reach them for their regular video chat session. Authorities found their bodies March 22 in a rural area east of Washougal.

The Clark County Medical Examiner’s Office determined both died from gunshot wounds to the head. Their deaths were ruled homicides, meaning they resulted from another person’s deliberate action. The rulings do not make any judgments about criminal culpability.

According to Vancouver police, Layla was shot twice in the head, and Melendez was shot once in the left temple, both by a small caliber gun similar to a .22

Warren, whom police previously named as a person of interest in their disappearances, has been in the Clark County Jail since March 19, when he was re-arrested.

He is tentatively scheduled to be arraigned on the murder charges April 17.

Restive audience

Dozens of people attended the hearing virtually and in person; Warren’s case was not heard until nearly three hours into the lengthy court docket. Judge Suzan Clark had cautioned the courtroom several times that any outbursts would result in people’s removal.

Michelle Bart, from the National Women’s Coalition Against Violence & Exploitation, said it was wrong for the court to take so long to call Warren’s case.

“We sat here for three hours. The family didn’t want to leave thinking that they would miss the opportunity if the case came up. So with that, the entire family, all of us in that courtroom and the 500 people on the Zoom had to endure every single case,” said Bart, who represents the family. “We need to do better in Clark County. We just re-victimized an entire family of victims that are here to have justice for Meshay and Layla.”

While waiting for the case to be called, many observers posted in the Zoom meeting chat “Justice for Meshay & Layla”; others criticized the court for Warren’s prior bail and release, shared condolences and prayers for the family, and commented on bail amounts set in other domestic violence cases. The comments prompted the docket defense attorney to voice concerns.

“Honestly, I’m worried about the other defendants’ safety if I ask for contact information. There are a lot of comments being made about different people, and it’s not appropriate,” attorney Marina Spencer said.

The judge then asked for the chat feature to be disabled. Clark said there were nearly 500 participants on Zoom — most there for Warren’s hearing — which “just about brought (the docket) to a halt today.” Shortly after, people continued to interrupt the proceedings by failing to mute themselves, prompting Clark to give a final warning before Zoom access would be shut down.

Memorial Fund

National Women's Coalition Against Violence & Exploitation has established a Memorial Fund for Meshay "Karmen" Melendez and Layla Stewart.

• Businesses and/or individuals wanting to support the family can send cards or checks to National Women's Coalition Against Violence & Exploitation (NWCAVE)
Make checks payable to NWCAVE
Memo: Meshay and Layla Memorial Fund
P.O. Box 872494
Vancouver, WA 98687
• Businesses wanting to provide inkind support (i.e. catering for funeral, printing, etc) may do so by contacting Michelle Bart at NWCAVE, info@nwcave.org or 360-852-8019.
• Direct funeral donations can be made by contacting Scott at Evergreen Memorial Gardens Vancouver, 360-892-6060.
• For those wanting to make an online donation, a GoFundMe has been set up for the family.

“Because you freed him. That’s what you did,” someone on the call responded.

One point of contention in Warren’s case is why prosecutors didn’t request he be subject to a GPS ankle monitor, for domestic violence offenders who are released pending trial, and the court didn’t order it at his March 3 first appearance for drive-by shooting. Warren was accused of shooting at Melendez’s apartment in the Minnehaha area Dec. 13.

On Monday, Clark, the judge who handled that March 3 hearing, ordered electronic monitoring in multiple domestic violence cases, regardless of victim cooperation. (An internal document from the Clark County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office, which provides guidance to domestic violence prosecutors, states prosecutors will not request electronic monitoring unless the victim in the case wants it.)

She also ordered Warren be held without bail. She acknowledged she was the judge who had initially set bail in his drive-by shooting case; Clark said she had “substantially less information” at that time and granted the prosecution’s request of $100,000 bail. Warren posted bail later that day, court records indicate, and he was released March 8.

“Unfortunately, we’re back here,” she said.

Clark also noted bail in the murder case is “somewhat academic” because Warren is being held without bail on a warrant out of Arkansas. He is charged there with first-degree murder and abuse of a corpse for allegedly shooting a man in the head and leaving his body in a ditch in November 2017. A judge had ordered $250,000 bail in the case, and Warren posted bond, court records show.

Meshay Melendez and Layla Stewart

Law enforcement officials work at the scene along Wooding Road east of Washougal on Wednesday afternoon, March 22, 2023. Authorities found two bodies believed to be those of a missing Vancouver woman and her 7-year-old daughter in a brushy area farther down Wooding Road.Police: Bodies of missing mother, daughter found near Washougal
Authorities found two bodies believed to be those of a missing Vancouver woman and her 7-year-old daughter in a rural area east of Washougal, police…
Layla Stewart's auntie, Lashay Taylor, in purple memorial shirt, grieves at a community vigil Sunday for the 7-year-old girl and her mother, Meshay Melendez, in Esther Short Park.Hundreds gather to mourn, honor Meshay Melendez and daughter Layla
Slain mother and daughter Meshay "Karmen" Melendez and Layla Stewart will be remembered for being “so full of energy and life." No matter how bad…
Meshay "Karmen" Melendez and daughter Layla Stewart, 7Records detail timeline in disappearance, death of Meshay Melendez, daughter Layla
The following information comes from court records filed in Clark County Superior and District Courts and Jefferson County Circuit Court in Arkansas, as well as…
Kirkland Warren makes a first appearance on suspicion of murder in the deaths of his former girlfriend, Meshay Melendez, and her daughter, Layla Stewart, as Judge Suzan Clark looks on at the Clark County Courthouse on Monday afternoon, April 3, 2023.Prosecutors will charge Warren with aggravated murder in shooting deaths of Meshay Melendez, daughter Layla
Clark County prosecutors say they plan to charge a Vancouver man accused in the slaying of his former girlfriend and her 7-year-old daughter with aggravated…

After the hearing, Bart called for courts to change the way they address bail in domestic violence cases after observing Monday.

“Hearing some of the bail amounts in there for the same kind of perpetrators that Warren is, I hope and pray all the people they give protective orders to, that they get better at protecting those people,” she said. “Every case is not the same. Every DV case, every sexual assault case, they’re all different; but if you’re dealing with somebody who has no problem shooting at people and pistol-whipping women, why would we let them out on the streets? And if there are rules and laws for that purpose, then I say let’s amend the Constitution.”

Police investigation

Vancouver police had conducted a welfare check on Melendez and Layla at about 2:15 p.m. March 18 at Springfield Meadows Apartments, 4317 N.E. 66th Ave., after family members reported they hadn’t heard from them since March 11. A friend told the family the pair hadn’t been home in several days, and their dog was inside the apartment barking, a police news release states.

When officers were let inside Melendez’s apartment, they found no one inside except for the dog, police said.

Officers learned Melendez, Layla and Warren had gone to an acquaintance’s apartment at about 5 a.m. March 12. Layla stayed there while Melendez and Warren went out, according to police.

Warren returned at about 8 a.m., and the acquaintance said she saw Melendez “passed out” in the passenger’s seat of his burgundy Dodge Charger. The woman said she shook Melendez several times but could not wake her. Warren went inside the apartment, got Layla and drove off with both, according to a probable cause affidavit.

On March 19, Melendez’s mother found her daughter’s car, a Chrysler 200, in the 7800 block of Northeast Loowit Loop in the VanMall neighborhood. Police seized her car as evidence, police previously said.

Also on March 19, police served a search warrant at Warren’s residence in the 3700 block of Northeast 109th Avenue in Vancouver’s Kevanna Park neighborhood, police said.

Officers arrested him on suspicion of tampering with a witness, unlawful possession of a firearm and violating a no-contact order with Melendez, stemming from a December incident.

Investigators seized multiple items, including two vehicles associated with Warren and three cellphones. They found blood in the front and back seats of the Dodge Charger, .22 shell casings, children’s clothing matching what Layla was believed to be wearing March 12 and a purse containing Melendez’s identification. They also found a .22 pistol in the center console of the second vehicle they searched, a Hyundai Palisade, according to court records and police.

Investigators analyzed one of the cellphones seized during Warren’s arrest and discovered that at about 6:30 p.m. March 13, someone used Google Maps to view the area of Southeast 356th Avenue, near where Melendez and Layla’s bodies were later found. At about 8:30 p.m., someone searched “Southeast Woodings Road” in Apple Maps, and about 20 minutes later, saved a parking location where their bodies were found. Shortly after 9 p.m., the user began an Apple Maps trip to Warren’s residence, the affidavit states.

After Melendez and Layla’s bodies were found, investigators interviewed Warren at the jail. When asked if he thought authorities had found them, he allegedly said “I don’t know,” and then, “I hope not.” When told their bodies had been found, and he was presented with the evidence found in his car, he asked for an attorney, according to the affidavit.

Timeline in Meshay Melendez, Layla Stewart case

The following information comes from court records filed in Clark County Superior and District Courts and Jefferson County Circuit Court in Arkansas, as well as police news releases. None of the allegations or charges have been proven in a court of law; all cases are pending.

  • Nov. 27, 2017: Kirkland C. Warren shoots his passenger, Curtis Urquhart, with a 22-caliber handgun, after Urquhart repeatedly asks for money, and dumps his body in a ditch near Stuttgart, Ark. Warren later admits to shooting Urquhart, but he tells investigators he feared for his life.
  • Dec. 12, 2017: Warren is arrested in Arkansas in connection with the November homicide.
  • Dec. 13, 2017: Warren posts $250,000 bond in the homicide case and is released.
  • Feb. 7, 2018: Criminal charges of first-degree murder and abuse of a corpse are filed in the Arkansas case.
  • 2020: Vancouver police investigate Warren for possessing a stolen semi-automatic handgun. Officers contact him, and he surrenders it. The firearm remains in evidence.
  • March 31, 2021: Warren lies on an application to buy a 9 mm semi-automatic handgun at SafeFire in Camas. He says he is not under indictment for a felony, when he has the pending murder case in Arkansas. His application is denied.
  • Dec. 13, 2022: Warren and Meshay Melendez argue at her Minnehaha area apartment. He subsequently leaves and shoots at Melendez’s balcony window, as she looks outside.
  • Dec. 23, 2022: Melendez calls 911 to report Warren assaulted her. She also reports the shooting from 10 days prior.
  • Feb. 3, 2023: Law enforcement interviews a friend who was present during the shooting and corroborates Melendez’s account.
  • Feb. 17, 2023: Melendez meets with investigators and recants her earlier statement. She says she lied about the shooting and claims she and her friend have mental health and drug issues, to explain away their earlier statements. She wants assurances Warren won’t be arrested. Investigators deem this to be suspicious.
  • March 2, 2023: Vancouver police arrest Warren.
  • March 3, 2023:Warren makes a first appearance in Clark County Superior Court on suspicion of second-degree domestic violence assault, drive-by shooting, making a false statement, harassment and possession of a stolen firearm, between the series of alleged incidents. Clark County prosecutors say a danger assessment found Warren poses an “extreme risk” to Melendez, with a score of 31 on a scale of 1 to 18. They also note the active homicide case in Arkansas. They ask Warren be held on $100,000 bail. Judge Suzan Clark grants the prosecution’s request, citing the nature of the allegations and the open Arkansas case. Clark also orders a domestic violence no-contact order with Melendez. Hours later, Warren violates the domestic violence no-contact order by calling Melendez twice from the Clark County Jail. He suggests she’s responsible for his arrest and needs to get his charges dropped. Melendez says she is trying to get the charges to go away. Warren says he’s not going back to Arkansas. Warren posts bail later that day. But he is cited in Clark County District Court for violating the domestic violence no-contact order with Melendez.
  • March 6, 2023: Warren appears in custody in District Court on the citation. Vancouver police Sgt. Deb Libbey, who authored the probable cause affidavit, asks the court to order Warren wear a GPS monitor if released and be subject to higher bail. Judge Kristen Parcher orders $10,000 bail and electronic monitoring, for domestic violence offenders who are released pending trial.
  • March 7, 2023: The District Court case is dismissed, and the allegations are later added to Warren’s Superior Court case. He is not fitted with a monitor before the case is dismissed.
  • March 8, 2023: Warren is released from the jail.
  • March 11, 2023: Melendez, Layla and Warren stay the night at a friend’s apartment in the VanMall neighborhood.
  • March 12, 2023: Melendez and Layla are last seen that morning with Warren, leaving in his burgundy Dodge Charger.
  • March 17, 2023: A judge in Arkansas revokes Warren’s bond in his 2018 murder case.
  • March 18, 2023: Melendez’s mother reports her and Layla missing after she can’t reach them for their regular video chat session, and friends express concern over being unable to contact them for a week. Vancouver police conduct a welfare check on Melendez and Layla at their Minnehaha area apartment. They are not there.
  • March 19, 2023: Melendez’s mother finds her daughter’s car, a Chrysler 200, in the 7800 block of Northeast Loowit Loop in the VanMall neighborhood. Vancouver police serve a search warrant for Warren’s vehicle and residence in the Kevanna Park neighborhood, and he is arrested. Vancouver police issue a missing persons bulletin to the public.
  • March 20, 2023: Warren appears in Superior Court on new allegations of tampering with a witness, second-degree unlawful possession of a firearm and a protection order violation. Clark County prosecutors ask that Warren be held without bail or that his bail increase from $100,000 to $500,000. Judge John Fairgrieve postpones the hearing a day and asks the prosecution for more information about the basis for the new allegations. He does not make a decision on bail. Warren remains in custody. The Arkansas judge’s order to revoke Warren’s bond is filed with Jefferson County, Ark., Circuit Court.
  • March 21, 2023: Warren appears in Superior Court on the new allegations. Fairgrieve finds probable cause. Clark County prosecutors ask Fairgrieve to order Warren be held without bail or increase his bail from $100,000 to $1 million and order he wear a GPS ankle device if released. Fairgrieve orders the $1 million bail and electronic monitoring. Vancouver police name Warren a person of interest in Melendez and Layla’s disappearances. Investigators also release descriptions of the involved vehicles.
  • March 22, 2023: Warren appears in Superior Court on a warrant for the Arkansas case. He admits he is the person wanted in Arkansas, but he refuses to waive extradition to be turned over to authorities there. Judge Robert Lewis orders Warren be held without bail on the warrant. Two bodies are discovered down an embankment in thick brush off Southeast Wooding Road near Sunset View Road east of Washougal. The Vancouver Police Department tentatively identifies them as Melendez and Layla.
  • March 26, 2023: About 300 people gather in Esther Short Park’s Propstra Square to honor Melendez and Layla. The vigil is hosted by the National Women’s Coalition Against Violence & Exploitation and YWCA Clark County, in conjunction with the family.
  • March 31, 2023: The Vancouver Police Department announces Warren is facing two counts of first-degree murder in the deaths of Melendez and Layla. The Clark County Medical Examiner’s Office also announces it had determined both Melendez and Layla died from gunshot wounds to the head.
  • April 3, 2023: Warren appears in Superior Court on suspicion of two counts of first-degree murder in the shooting deaths of Melendez and Layla. Prosecutors announce they intend to charge Warren with aggravated first-degree murder. If convicted, he would be sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
  • April 12, 2023: Warren's wife, Monet Tyler-Warren, 26, is charged in Multnomah County Circuit Court in Oregon with first-degree aggravated theft, first-degree theft, aggravated identity theft and identity theft. She's accused of stealing money while working at a Portland credit union and transferring it to other accounts, including one in Melendez’s name.
  • April 17, 2023: Warren pleads not guilty to aggravated murder charges in the fatal shootings of Melendez and Layla.
  • April 19, 2023: More than 100 people attend a private memorial service at Evergreen Memorial Gardens for Melendez and Layla, followed by a procession to their gravesite.
  • May 9, 2023: Warren pleads not guilty to two counts of violating a protection order, one count of tampering with a witness and one count of second-degree unlawful possession of a firearm. The new charges are tied to his drive-by shooting case. Prosecutors had previously amended the information in that case, but Warren had not yet been arraigned on the added charges.
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