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News / Clark County News

Defense attorney: Guillermo Raya Leon shot Clark county sheriff’s Sgt. Brown in self-defense

Prosecution says sheriff’s sergeant was ambushed

By Becca Robbins, Columbian staff reporter
Published: September 8, 2023, 6:46pm
4 Photos
Defendant Guillermo Raya Leon is pictured Friday at the Clark County Courthouse before opening statements in his aggravated murder trial. He's accused of fatally shooting Clark County sheriff's Sgt. Jeremy Brown in July 2021 while Brown was surveilling an east Vancouver apartment complex.
Defendant Guillermo Raya Leon is pictured Friday at the Clark County Courthouse before opening statements in his aggravated murder trial. He's accused of fatally shooting Clark County sheriff's Sgt. Jeremy Brown in July 2021 while Brown was surveilling an east Vancouver apartment complex. (Amanda Cowan/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

A defense attorney for the Salem, Ore., man accused of fatally shooting Clark County sheriff’s Sgt. Jeremy Brown told a jury Friday that her client fired in self-defense and implied Brown shot first. The prosecutor said Brown was ambushed.

Guillermo Raya Leon, 28, is charged in Clark County Superior Court with aggravated first-degree murder, first-degree trafficking in stolen property, first-degree burglary, theft of a motor vehicle and two counts of possession of a stolen firearm.

A jury was seated in the trial around 2:30 p.m. Friday, after more than three days of selection process. The jury consists of four men and 12 women, including four alternates who will be identified before deliberations. Alternates are routinely chosen in longer trials in case regular jurors cannot complete their service.

Clark County Prosecutor Tony Golik told the jury of the events leading up to the July 23, 2021, shooting, which occurred while Brown conducted surveillance in an unmarked Jeep SUV at an east Vancouver apartment complex. Law enforcement officers from several agencies were watching Guillermo Raya Leon; his brother, Abran Raya Leon, 30; and Abran Raya Leon’s wife, Misty Raya, 37, as part of an investigation into stolen firearms.

He said Guillermo Raya Leon knew law enforcement was watching them, beginning earlier in the day at a motel in Castle Rock. The trio eventually left the motel and evaded police during a dangerous, high-speed chase south on Interstate 5, Golik said.

Police later lost track of the trio again after leaving a Portland shopping center, before finding them that evening at an east Vancouver apartment complex. It was there that Brown became involved in the investigation, Golik said.

“Unfortunately, it was bright and sunny out,” Golik said. “While Jeremy Brown was observing them from what he thought was a safe distance, the defendant had spotted him. And the defendant had told his brother and his sister-in-law, ‘That’s an undercover officer.’ And he was right.”

After thinking about his next step for a while, Guillermo Raya Leon went outside to confront the suspected officer, Golik said.

The prosecutor said Guillermo Raya Leon described during a police interview approaching Brown’s driver’s side window and seeing a law enforcement laptop on his lap. Guillermo Raya Leon said Brown told him to back up, and then Brown began reaching for his gun, the prosecutor said.

Then, Guillermo Raya Leon pulled a stolen .357 Magnum revolver from his sweatshirt pocket and shot Brown once, from close range, he said.

“He shot Jeremy Brown from behind, from a position of ambush,” Golik said.

Abran Raya Leon drove the trio away from the complex while the other law enforcement in the area had no idea what happened. Golik said Abran Raya Leon crashed the SUV they were in, and he and Misty Raya were eventually found and arrested in a nearby backyard. Guillermo Raya Leon stole a Prius from that house and drove it to Salem, Ore., where he was arrested two days later, Golik said.

The prosecutor questioned Guillermo Raya Leon’s claims in a police interview that he didn’t approach Brown’s unmarked vehicle with the intention of shooting the detective, but rather to confirm if Brown was an officer or not.

“He says that he was just going to see if he was a police officer, and then, if he was, I guess, just go away,” Golik said.

Defense’s theory

Defense attorney Therese Lavallee told the jury that was her client’s plan — to once again flee with his brother and sister-in-law, if they were, in fact, being watched. She said her client approached Brown’s Jeep and asked him if he could help him or if he was waiting for anyone. Her client then said Brown immediately grabbed his gun and shot at him, Lavallee said.

She said Brown fired one shot through his open, driver’s side window, which struck a nearby van. Guillermo Raya Leon fired one shot in return, out of self-defense, which struck Brown, the attorney said. Brown then fired another shot toward her client, followed by several more as Guillermo Raya Leon ran away, she said.

The defense attorney said that Guillermo Raya Leon had the advantage by sneaking up on Brown and could have shot the detective before he was noticed if Guillermo Raya Leon’s intention was to kill him.

“You’ll see that round was a dang unlucky shot. It’s amazing it even hit Deputy Brown,” Lavallee said. “It was not a shot that a person with an intent to ambush would’ve taken.”

She said, at the time, her client didn’t know his single shot had killed Brown. It wasn’t until he got to Salem and saw news stories about the shooting that he knew the man was, in fact, an officer and that he had, in fact, killed him, she said.

The defense attorney agreed her client was involved in a dangerous scheme, but she urged the jury to consider whether the killing amounted to premeditated, first-degree murder.

“Self-defense is nature’s oldest law,” Lavallee said.

Before the end of the day Friday, prosecutors showed the jury a photo of Jeremy Brown. Trial is scheduled to resume Monday morning with state’s witnesses.

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