The 2015 disappearance of 32-year-old Bret Snow is back in front of a Spokane County jury this week – four months after a panel couldn’t decide whether the first of four defendants to stand trial was guilty of first-degree murder.
Jurors on Monday heard opening arguments in the kidnapping and murder case against 39-year-old Cheryl Sutton, who along with her longtime boyfriend Ken Stone, 34, rented a home in the Newman Lake community where Snow was last seen in December 2015. Colby Vodder, 28, was tried in October in connection with the alleged killing of Snow, but a mistrial was declared after a jury couldn’t agree on a verdict.
Other defendants in the case include Stone and 53-year-old Alvaro Guajardo, who’s scheduled to go to trial in June. Attorneys earlier this month disclosed new DNA evidence found on a mattress that further linked Guajardo to the scene. The state’s prevailing theory is that Snow was killed and butchered in a garage on Sutton and Stone’s property.
In trial Monday morning, Sutton’s attorney, Jeremy Schmidt criticized the state’s lack of evidence.
“There’s no body. There’s no murder weapon. There’s none of my client’s DNA,” he told the jury of 12 women and three men. “And there’s no motive in this matter.”
Schmidt said Sutton’s arrest came after a year of investigating that netted just trace amounts of Snow’s blood – found months later in the garage on the property Sutton rented – but no eyewitnesses. He said the detective in the case, Lyle Johnston, simply focused on the wrong suspect.
“Sometimes you can be too close to something to see what’s really going on,” he said. “And I think we get that. Someone wants the truth so badly, someone wants to find the answers, that it can lead us to make the wrong decision.”
Schmidt indicated he intends to introduce a theory of an alternative suspect. Sutton is expected to testify during her trial.
The murder charge stems from an investigation by the Spokane County Sheriff’s Office, which relied primarily on the interviews of dozens of witnesses. Many of them say Vodder and Guajardo admitted to killing Snow and hiding his body after Snow botched a drug deal and accepted a trade instead of cash. The deal angered Sutton and Stone, according to prosecutors, who allege they instructed Vodder and Guajardo to kill Snow.
Vodder and Guajardo were known to frequent the home at 7822 N. Starr Road in Newman Lake, where witnesses in Vodder’s trial said Sutton and Stone ran a drug operation, selling meth and heroin. One of the dealers working under them, witnesses alleged, was Snow.
On Monday, Deputy Prosecutor Dale Nagy, who also prosecuted Vodder’s trial, led the jury through these series of events in his opening remarks. Nagy said Sutton and others killed Snow after a drug deal.
“Bret Snow and Ms. Sutton had a falling out,” he said. “This falling out came to a head around Dec. 2 of 2015.”
During their years-long investigation, deputies tracked Snow’s cellphone records, leading them to the Newman Lake address, where his phone last pinged a tower on Dec. 3, 2015. In June 2016, detectives searched an outbuilding on the property and found traces of Snow’s blood and hair. However, because the workshop was renovated by new owners, the amount of bloodshed could not be determined.
Other witnesses reported Vodder bragged that he and Guajardo “took care” of Snow. Court records show Sutton remembered Vodder showing her what she believed to be the murder weapon – a 2-foot-long instrument made of metal with “teeth on it” – as he held it in the air and waved it around. That item was never located by authorities.
In addition to opening remarks, jurors on Monday heard testimony from Snow’s mother and sister. And, from Karen Nelson, one of Snow’s best friends and the last person other than those at the Newman Lake home to have seen Snow alive.
Answering questions from Schmidt about their relationship, Nelson said Snow would have given his shirt off his back to anyone who needed it. She said the day he went missing she was supposed to stay the night with him.
“He always told me I was welcome out there,” she said.
“It was a safe place?” asked Schmidt.
“Supposedly,” she said.
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