One of two men accused of killing a homeless man and dumping his body in the Spokane River told investigators they plotted to kill him because they thought he was a child molester.
Court documents said one of the suspected killers detailed the fatal attack for investigators following his arrest Thursday night.
Fishermen discovered 40-year-old Mark E. Pedersen’s body submerged under about 6 feet of water under an East Spokane Falls Boulevard bridge near the Gonzaga University baseball field around 11:30 a.m. Thursday, according to court documents. He was found with a bag over his head, and his hands and feet were bound with electrical tape.
The medical examiner’s office ruled Pedersen’s death a homicide and said he had been strangled. Blunt trauma to his head was a contributing factor in his death, the office said.
Friday afternoon, two men whom court documents describe as transients were in court on first-degree murder charges. Vincent L. Merrill, 19, and Dakota Moss, 24, were each ordered held on $1 million bond.
Spokane police said Friday they have no evidence Pedersen was a child molester.
According to statements filed in court, Moss told investigators Merrill told him Wednesday that Pedersen was “a baby raper” and that they should kill him that night.
The documents said a group of five transients plus Pedersen had been staying under the bridge in a makeshift camp for about three days. Three witnesses told police Merrill asked them to “go for a walk” Wednesday night and that when they came back Pedersen was gone.
Merrill declined to comment to investigators before speaking with an attorney, the documents said.
Moss, according to the documents, told police that he and Merrill talked about killing Pedersen for a day or two.
“He claimed that defendant Merrill told him that victim Pedersen was a child molester and that he ‘wanted to kill him,’ ” the documents said. “He admitted that they talked about this and defendant Merrill ‘wanted to do it late at night.’ ”
Moss said Pedersen was asleep when Moss tried to hold him down but “failed miserably.” He said Merrill then jumped over some rocks and placed a white cord around Pedersen’s neck and held it there until Pedersen stopped moving. Merrill then put a blanket over Pedersen’s head and hit him with a rock, he added.
Detectives wrote in court documents that Moss told them he bound Pedersen’s hands and feet and went through his pockets and removed all his belongings. They wrapped him in a blanket and carried him down to the river, the documents said. The men changed clothes and tried to “clean up the scene using dirt and urine.”
Lt. Mark Griffiths said the men were quickly identified as suspects because people in the area saw the news that a body had been found and called the police tip line to report whom they had recently seen in the area.
About six hours after the body was found, a patrol officer in the 100 block of North Erie Street spotted two people matching the descriptions the witnesses provided. The officer stated in the court documents that she saw members in the group in possession of several red bags witnesses had said were at the scene of the slaying.
Merrill had blood on him as well as several cuts on his face, court documents said.
Neither of the suspects has a criminal history, Griffiths said. Although all three were considered transients, Griffiths said Pedersen did have ties to Spokane. Court documents said his family told police he had been living on the street for several months.
Griffiths said the quick arrests were a result of being able to identify the body quickly, witness statements and an all-nighter for investigators.
“A lot of things came together for us,” he said.