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Jury: Man guilty of murder in Toppenish woman’s death on Yakama reservation

UPDATED: Fri., June 11, 2021

Alillia “Lala” Minthorn, 25, was shot to death in a closed area of the Yakama reservation in early May 2019.  (Courtesy )
Alillia “Lala” Minthorn, 25, was shot to death in a closed area of the Yakama reservation in early May 2019. (Courtesy )
By Phil Ferolito Yakima Herald-Republic

A jury found Jordan Everett Stevens guilty of first-degree murder Thursday evening in the shooting death of Alillia “Lala” Minthorn in a remote area of the Yakama reservation more than two years ago.

Stevens was charged in U.S. District Court. The jury also found him guilty of discharging a firearm while committing a crime.

Witnesses said Stevens shot 25-year-old Minthorn on May 3, 2019, because she had talked to FBI agents about an incident in which he was involved.

The trial began Monday and the federal government rested its case early Thursday. Closing arguments followed Thursday afternoon.

Stevens remained calm as the verdict was read and confirmed by jurors in a subsequent jury poll.

A Sept. 1 sentencing hearing has been scheduled.

Closing arguments

Two hours earlier, federal prosecutor Ben Seal and defense attorney Ulvar Klein rounded out the four-day murder trial by walking jurors through testimony again.

Seal reiterated the testimony of two key witnesses – Jasmine McCormack and Samantha Tainewasher, Minthorn’s cousin.

Both said they picked up Minthorn at a Toppenish homeless encampment known as The Compound and drove to a Union Gap cemetery, where Tainewasher hopped out to visit the graves of her mother and brother. She returned to find McCormack beating on Minthorn.

Tainewasher said she told her to stop, and then Stevens struck Minthorn in the face repeatedly with the stock of a rifle.

McCormack hopped in the driver seat of her SUV and drove them to a remote, closed area of the Yakama reservation north of Brownstown. They all got out and Stevens shot Minthorn, Tainewasher and McCormack said.

McCormack said she thought her blood got on Minthorn, so she returned and removed her clothes.

Stevens declined to testify. The gun used was never recovered.

Seal said Tainewasher and McCormack were on one side of the vehicle when they exited while Sevens and Minthorn were on the other.

“Samantha was told to look the other way,” Seal said. “And she looked and saw a lifeless body of her cousin lying on the ground.”

Seal ran down the list of expert witnesses, including a medical examiner who concluded Minthorn died of a single gunshot wound to the head.

“We know who was present and we know what the motive was – he shot and killed Alillia,” Seal told jurors.

The defense

Klein attacked the government’s case in his closing argument, saying it unfairly focused only on Stevens and suggested federal investigators promised McCormack and Tainewasher deals in upcoming cases on unrelated matters.

Klein said McCormack and Tainewasher were unreliable witnesses whose testimonies do not prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Both admitted to using drugs and drinking the day Minthorn was killed.

“You have to make the decision based on testimony from heroin and meth addicts,” he told jurors. “The only thing you have to work with is Jasmine and Samantha.”

He pointed to memory problems McCormack displayed early in the investigation, when she told a federal agent she could not recall whether they were in a sedan or an SUV when Minthorn was killed.

“How can you get past reasonable doubt with people who can’t remember if they were in a Yukon or a sedan?” Klein asked.

Klein also made issue of Tainewasher calling police to report her SUV stolen when McCormack and Stevens left with it, but made no mention of her cousin’s death that day.

“Was the truck more valuable that Alillia? On that day, it was,” Klein said. “She valued her truck more than Alillia.”

Klein suggested McCormack was the shooter in Minthorn’s death.

He said McCormack saw Minthorn talking to police at the compound, possibly about an incident in which she and Stevens were involved.

After the shooting, they drove to the Brownstown Tavern, where they met up with owner Tim Castilleja.

Castilleja, who rented a room to McCormack for about a year and once dated Tainewasher’s mother, had to be arrested and brought to trial to testify.

He told the jury that McCormack was cleaning the Yukon after they showed up the day Minthorn was killed. Castilleja told jurors “she looked at me and said she had done it – she really done it.”

Castilleja didn’t elaborate on what he thought that might have meant, though tears welled in his eyes when he was asked about it.

Klein said it was a confession.

“She said ‘I finally did it.’ She was talking about the murder,” Klein said in closing.

Klein also said a coroner’s report didn’t match Tainewasher’s story about Stevens repeatedly striking Minthorn in the face with the butt of a gun.

Jurors where shown photographs of Minthorn’s body, and a forensic pathologist testified she didn’t appear to have suffered any facial fractures.

“There wasn’t any nose or facial fractures,” Klein said. “But ask yourself, the body laying there on its back, did the face seemed caved in?”

Seal’s response

In response, Seal assured jurors there were no special deals with McCormack and Tainewash to testify, only that McCormack was given immunity from having her own testimony used against her in future matters.

Seal told jurors McCormack and Tainewash were afraid of Stevens and didn’t come forward until they were sober and safe.

McCormack was in the Klickitat County Jail following a pursuit in a stolen car. Tainewash was in Spokane.

Furthermore, he said it was McCormack who led FBI agent Clint Barefoot to Minthorn’s body.

“If Jasmine is such a liar, how come she took agent Barefoot directly to the body?” Seal said. “That’s pretty powerful evidence that Jasmine is telling the truth.”

Seal defended accusations that Barefoot unfairly pursued Stevens as a suspect and upheld his frequent contact with McCormack as a witness.

Seal said retaining witnesses on the reservation is difficult at best, and pointed to Castilleja’s reluctance to testify as an example.

“If Barefoot hadn’t succeeded, Alillia’s body never would have been found and she would still be a missing indigenous woman.”

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