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News / Northwest

Multiple-victim homicides rare. But when they lack a motive, they cause more fear, experts say

By Donald W. Meyers, Yakima Herald-Republic
Published: February 10, 2023, 10:06am

YAKIMA — In a county that has averaged 25 homicides a year since 2012, the killing of three people at an East Nob Hill Boulevard convenience store in January rattled the community.

While the killings brought national attention to Yakima and shattered a sense of normalcy, law enforcement and a criminologist say mass killings are the exception rather than the rule.

“Thank God we don’t see this every time we have a homicide,” Yakima County Prosecuting Attorney Joe Brusic said. “They’re not the norm.”

It is their rarity that makes them stand out from other killings, said Charles Reasons, an emeritus professor in Central Washington University’s Law and Justice Department. And while many mass killings are motivated by drugs or gang violence, those that lack a motive tend to stoke more fear, Reasons said.

Since 2012, out of 283 people that have been killed in homicides in Yakima County, 29 of them — roughly 10% —were killed in 13 incidents, according to court records.

A study published in the Injury Epidemiology journal in 2021 found, using data from the National Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, that multiple-victim homicides represented 10.5% of all U.S. homicides between 2003 and 2017.

While such killings are rare, in some cases there are clear motives, such as jealousy, money, drugs or gangs, said Yakima County sheriff’s Detective Sgt. Jason Pepper and Sgt. Randy Baker, his counterpart at the Yakima Police Department.

“Those are specifically targeting people for that reason,” Pepper said.

Baker recalled the killings of Jobany Martinez, 18, and Jose Avilez, 17, along the Naches River near the North 16th Avenue Yakima Greenway parking lot in 2012. Their killer, Lameiro Efren Flores, told police he shot the two gang members because they had attacked him before and he feared they would do it again.

He pleaded guilty in 2013 to two counts of second-degree murder and received two consecutive 20-year sentences.

The worst of the county’s multiple-victim homicides was the killing of five people at a remote trailer in Medicine Valley June 8, 2019. In that case, prosecutors said the killings were triggered by a dispute between James Dean Cloud and John Cagle, one of the five who were killed.

The Clouds had gone to the house with two other people who were buying drugs there, according to court testimony.

James Cloud was convicted in federal court on four counts of first-degree murder and was sentenced to four consecutive life sentences, while his co-defendant, Donovan Quinn Carter Cloud, pleaded guilty to carjacking and brandishing a firearm in connection with their getaway from the crime scene. Donovan Cloud was sentenced to more than 27 years.

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Their trial was in federal court because they and some of their victims were Native Americans and the killings occurred on the Yakama Nation Indian Reservation.

When Karina Morales-Rodriguez, 27, and Marta Martinez, 30, were killed at the MoneyTree store in downtown Yakima on March 26, 2016, prosecutors said robbery was the motive. Manuel Enrique Verduzco was a former employee of the check-cashing store and was looking for money when he killed the women, prosecutors said.

Verduzco received two consecutive life-without-parole sentences after being found guilty of aggravated first-degree murder.

Brusic considered seeking the death penalty in that case, but chose instead to seek a life without parole, citing potential information on Verduzco’s mental health that could have swayed jurors to spare his life.

A similar scenario unfolded in the trial of Herbert “Chief” Rice, who was convicted of aggravated first-degree murder in a 1988 double homicide. Jurors voted 11-1 to recommend Rice be executed, with the lack of a unanimous vote resulting in a life-without-parole sentence.

Rice and Russell McNeil, who pleaded guilty the night before his trial, stabbed Mike and Dorothy Nickoloff to death in their Parker home during a home-invasion robbery in which they took two television sets and a pack of cigarettes.

Both men, who were 17 at the time of the killings, are awaiting resentencing after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that life-without-parole sentences were unconstitutional for juveniles.

Drugs and gangs were factors in the deaths of Michael Kevin Eby Jr., 36, and Ryan Michael Pederson, 35, whose bullet-riddled bodies were found in a car near the Roza Dam on Dec. 21, 2012. Marco Antonio Gallegos, described in court as a Norteño gang enforcer, shot Eby following a fight stemming from allegations Eby stole marijuana from the gang, and ordered another gang member to shoot Pederson to eliminate him as a witness.

Gallegos was convicted of aggravated first-degree murder and sentenced to two consecutive life-without-parole sentences.

People tend to have a sense of “peace” if a shooting or killing had a clear motive, such as gangs or drugs. In those cases, people comfort themselves with the knowledge that they’re not gang members, don’t do drugs or go to certain parts of town, YPD’s Baker said.

But a random shooting like the Jan. 24 triple homicide at the Circle K, he said, is more jarring, Baker and Reasons said.

While suspect Jarid Lawrence Haddock’s drug use appears a factor in the crime — authorities are awaiting toxicology test results — Baker said the victims were just ordinary people doing ordinary things.

“We could be at the convenience store at the wrong time, or at the wrong place,” Reasons said.

Yakima police went to the convenience store at the corner of South 18th Street and East Nob Hill Boulevard around 3:30 a.m. Jan. 24 in response to 911 calls. They found Nikki Godrey, 40, and Roy Knoeb Jr., 65, dead in the store, and Jeffrey Howlett, 54, in his SUV at the Circle K’s gas pumps with multiple gunshot wounds.

Video footage from the area showed Haddock, 21, get locked out of his car across the street from the Circle K and go over to the convenience store twice, the second time shooting Godfrey and Knoeb in the store, and then Howlett, before shooting out the window of his own car and driving off, according to a police affidavit.

Haddock was found almost 12 hours later with a self-inflicted gunshot wound near Target and pronounced dead at a Yakima hospital

Haddock’s mother told police that her son had been using methamphetamine for three years and that his drug use had gotten worse in the past month, an affidavit said, and had access to a handgun and two long guns, including an AK-47-style rifle.

Adding to the horror of three people shot dead at the convenience store was the fact that Haddock’s whereabouts were unknown for hours, authorities said. Yakima SWAT surrounded Haddock’s family home believing he was there, only to find hours later that he wasn’t.

“What’s even more scary is there are other people he encountered that morning, even after he left his house, in harm’s way,” Brusic said. “It could have been worse.”

In a community letter, YPD Chief Matt Murray said Haddock had a gun and more than 150 bullets and was near a crowded department store when he shot himself. He credited a bystander for calling police for possibly averting another shooting.

Reasons, who is now teaching criminology in Tampa, Fla., said firearms are another element that contributes to multiple homicides. While there are some cases where people have used knives or other weapons, guns make it easier to kill more people quickly.

“We are unique in the world in that we have a Second Amendment and more guns than people,” including semiautomatic weapons, Reasons said.

The Circle K shooting, Reasons said, will likely affect people’s thoughts when they go to a convenience store, particularly in the early morning hours, but they will settle back into their usual routines as time goes by and the memory fades.