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News / Clark County News

Getaway driver in slaying of Sgt. Jeremy Brown guilty of second-degree murder

Abran Raya Leon is the first of three defendants to go to trail in Clark County sheriff's sargeant's death

By Jessica Prokop, Columbian Local News Editor
Published: August 17, 2023, 7:17pm
3 Photos
Clark County Sheriff John Horch and Jill Brown, widow of slain sheriff's Sgt. Jeremy Brown, embrace outside the courtroom Thursday after the guilty verdicts are read in Abran Raya Leon's felony murder trial in Clark County Superior Court.
Clark County Sheriff John Horch and Jill Brown, widow of slain sheriff's Sgt. Jeremy Brown, embrace outside the courtroom Thursday after the guilty verdicts are read in Abran Raya Leon's felony murder trial in Clark County Superior Court. (Photos by Jessica Prokop/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

The getaway driver and first of three co-defendants to be tried in the July 2021 slaying of Clark County sheriff’s Sgt. Jeremy Brown was found guilty Thursday of felony murder.

The Clark County Superior Court jury convicted Abran Raya Leon, 30, of second-degree murder with a firearm enhancement, possession of a stolen firearm and first-degree unlawful possession of a firearm.

His attorneys stood and shielded him as he sat, staring ahead, while the verdict was read aloud shortly after 2 p.m.

The jury reached the guilty verdicts in less than 2½ hours’ time.

Brown’s widow, Jill Brown, sitting in the front row of the gallery, became emotional as the verdicts were handed down.

Outside the courtroom, dozens of friends, family members and uniformed deputies stood quietly as Clark County Sheriff John Horch and Jill Brown embraced. Afterward, she quietly thanked everyone for being there.

“I’m very pleased and very thankful that our system worked,” Horch said. “It’s a bittersweet day — bitter because of the memories and emotions that were relived but sweet because justice was delivered to one of the defendants.”

Jill Brown, speaking through the sheriff, declined to make a statement. Both the prosecution and defense declined to comment on the verdict.

Abran Raya Leon is scheduled to be sentenced at 1:30 p.m. Aug. 31.

The prosecution did not yet know his sentencing range, due to his out-of-state convictions needing to be analyzed for comparability. However, it appears he has at least three offender points, for a sentencing range of 154 to 254 months. The firearm enhancement adds another five years, to run consecutively.

Tense morning

The morning started off tense.

Before the trial got underway, defense attorney John Terry confronted law enforcement for trying to sit in the front row behind the defendant’s table; he was reserving it for observers for the defense team. The brief interaction prompted some members of the Clark County Sheriff’s Office to leave the courtroom to make room for others.

Then, defense attorney Alyosha McClain moved for a mistrial because armed deputies were standing outside the courtroom when the jury arrived for the day, he said. He alternatively asked the judge to order firearms be removed from the courtroom. McClain argued their presence created an intimidating atmosphere and that the animosity toward his client was apparent.

Judge David Gregerson denied both motions, saying he had not seen any law enforcement observers act inappropriately.

“They have a right, and the public has a right to be in this courtroom,” the judge said.

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Although Abran Raya Leon didn’t pull the trigger, he was charged in Jeremy Brown’s death as part of an alleged conspiracy to traffick stolen firearms. Prosecutors allege his brother, Guillermo Raya Leon, 28, fatally shot Brown and that Abran Raya Leon’s wife, Misty Raya, 37, initiated the scheme. They are scheduled for trial Sept. 5 and Oct. 9, respectively.

In his closing argument, Clark County Prosecutor Tony Golik again laid out a lengthy narrative of a scheme he said culminated in Brown’s death.

He argued Abran Raya Leon was in the middle of the scheme — the most damning evidence of his involvement being his taped confession.

The events began with Misty Raya burglarizing a Hazel Dell storage unit and stealing a cache of firearms and ammunition. From there, she called her husband, who was in jail at the time, Golik said, and told him about the guns. In one jail call, she made it clear she knew law enforcement was on to her, Golik said.

“Way before July 23, 2021, when the murder occurred, already the defendant and his wife knew law enforcement was watching them and building a case,” Golik said.

When Abran Raya Leon got out of jail, the couple, along with Guillermo Raya Leon, set about selling the stockpile, he said.

On the day of the shooting, law enforcement had tracked the trio to a motel in Castle Rock. In his recorded police interviews, Abran Raya Leon admitted to driving away from the motel, Golik said, and later eluding police on Interstate 5 near Woodland.

Golik said Abran Raya Leon also admitted to knowing there was an arsenal of stolen guns in the vehicle he was driving.

Undercover officers caught up to the trio again outside a Portland Target, where Misty Raya called her friend, Lani Kraabell, whom Golik described as the middleman for the sale, for a ride.

Kraabell drove them to an east Vancouver apartment complex. There, Abran Raya Leon and the others were waiting on a call back from a prospective buyer, Golik said, when his brother took a stolen revolver outside to confront Brown, whom he suspected was an undercover officer.

Golik said Guillermo Raya Leon snuck up on Brown and shot him once from behind; Brown fired seven shots.

“Who fired first? We’ll never know. It doesn’t matter. Jeremy Brown was absolutely justified with (Guillermo Raya Leon) behind him with a .357 Magnum revolver,” the prosecutor said.

Afterward, Abran Raya Leon, also armed with a stolen Glock pistol, drove the trio away from the complex, and they crashed while eluding police, Golik said.

“He knew what his brother did, and he didn’t hesitate a second to help his brother get away,” Golik said.

Defense questions charge

McClain, the defense attorney, argued Abran Raya Leon was not legally responsible for second-degree murder because he was not part of the alleged trafficking conspiracy, the impetus for his felony murder charge. He was in jail when his wife and another man allegedly stole the firearms. McClain argued his client didn’t know what was going on until after the fact.

And even if he had been involved, McClain said, Abran Raya Leon’s part was over by the time his brother allegedly killed Brown, because Misty Raya and Kraabell were handling the sale of the guns.

McClain said Abran Raya Leon has “some sort of culpability” for helping his brother after the shooting — but not to the level of second-degree murder, a class A felony. He equated his client’s actions to rendering criminal assistance, a class B felony.

“Law enforcement lost one of their law enforcement brothers, so they’re going to want Guillermo’s brother,” he told the jury.

McClain argued the “fatal flaw” with his client’s murder charge is it alleges, in part, that Brown’s slaying was in furtherance of the gun trafficking conspiracy. But he said the moment Guillermo Raya Leon shot Brown, the trafficking conspiracy was over; the trio left the stolen firearms behind as they fled.

He urged the jury not to let sympathy or emotions cloud their deliberations.

Lia King, who served on the jury, told The Columbian afterward that it was difficult seeing Brown’s widow in the courtroom, particularly when the state’s case focused on his final moments.

The jury foreman agreed.

“To detach from the emotion was difficult at times,” Ben Gross told The Columbian.

“This is heavy,” he said of the case. “It’s got some serious gravity to it, with the police officer and number of people involved.”

Still, both King, Gross and a third juror, Jara Dee Forney, said the jury put emotion aside and focused on the facts. They said the jury followed the instructions of the law, gave each point thorough consideration and ensured everyone spoke their piece.

They agreed Abran Raya Leon’s recorded police interviews solidified their decision.

“Hearing his voice and what happened in his own words,” Gross said.