SPOKANE – A jury on Wednesday found James Dean Cloud guilty of several counts of first-degree murder, kidnapping and carjacking in a 2019 mass homicide that shook the Yakama Reservation.
John Cagle, 59, Michelle Starnes, 51, Catherine Eneas, 49, Thomas Hernandez, 36, and Dennis Overaker, 61, all were shot to death June 8, 2019, at a Medicine Valley trailer just west of White Swan.
James Cloud and Donovan Quinn Carter Cloud are accused of the killings and were charged in U.S. District Court with murder, attempted murder, kidnapping, assault with a deadly weapon and brandishing a firearm with intent to commit bodily injury.
Donovan Cloud, who was supposed to be tried after James Cloud, entered a guilty plea Wednesday to carjacking and brandishing a firearm.
Jurors in James Cloud’s trial spent more than a week listening to testimony that sometimes conflicted. They also reviewed evidence and saw gruesome photos of the scene before going into deliberations Tuesday afternoon. They came to a verdict just after 9 a.m. Wednesday at the Thomas S. Foley Courthouse in downtown Spokane.
Frowns crept across the faces of defense attorneys and concern flashed in James Cloud’s eyes as the verdict was read into record.
The Clouds will be sentenced July 26 in Yakima. James Cloud faces a potential life sentence. Donovan Cloud faces 22 to 27 years in custody under the federal sentencing guidelines, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
The jury found James Cloud guilty on four counts of first-degree murder in the shooting deaths of Starnes, Eneas, Overacker and Hernandez.
The jury also found him guilty of kidnapping, carjacking, assault and brandishing a firearm while committing a crime.
He and Donovan Cloud had been accused of going to family’s home and holding a gun to a boy’s head while demanding a vehicle to flee the area. They were also accused of taking the boy, who managed to escape, according to testimony.
The jury found him not guilty of second-degree murder in Cagle’s death. Cagle’s body was found in a game room near but separate from the trailer.
Prosecutors said a dispute in the game room resulted in James Cloud shooting and killing Cagle, and then going on a killing spree.
The Clouds weren’t alone when the killings occurred. Natasha Mae Jackson and her uncle, Morris Bruce Jackson, were with them.
Prosecutors said the Clouds picked up the Jacksons en route to Lyle, a small Columbia River community south of Goldendale, and stopped by Cagle’s so Morris Jackson could buy some meth.
Then the Clouds became aggressive, entered Cagle’s property with guns strapped over their shoulders and went on a shooting rampage, prosecutors said.
The defense said Morris Jackson, who testified that he saw James Cloud shoot and kill Hernandez after admitting to killing Cagle, had more to do with the violence that unfolded that day than he acknowledged.
They claimed that James Cloud attempted to calm down Donovan Cloud, whom witnesses said wanted to kill everyone in a pickup that arrived after the initial shootings.
Defense attorneys argued that Donovan Cloud and Morris Jackson were responsible for the shootings that day. They pointed to one of the surviving victim’s statements identifying Morris Jackson as the one who shot at the pickup with a shotgun.
Natasha Jackson also confirmed her earlier statements to investigators that it was her uncle who shot at the pickup.
Overacker, Hernandez, Lindell LaFollette and Esmeralda Zaragoza were in the pickup that arrived after the first shootings. They were there to visit Cagle.
Hernandez was shot to death outside the pickup. Overacker was in the driver’s seat when he was shot and killed. LaFollette and Zaragoza were shot as well, but survived.
Morris Jackson was charged with being a felon in possession of a firearm. He said he was able to take possession of a .22-caliber rifle from James Cloud after the shootings and later tossed it in a canal.
He entered a plea agreement that shields him from any charges related to events that occurred at Cagle’s trailer.
The Clouds’ trials were moved to Spokane due to extensive media coverage of the case in Yakima.
The killings occurred over the same weekend the Yakama Nation held its annual commemoration of its 1855 Treaty with the federal government.
Local journalism is essential.
Give directly to The Spokesman-Review's Northwest Passages community forums series -- which helps to offset the costs of several reporter and editor positions at the newspaper -- by using the easy options below. Gifts processed in this system are not tax deductible, but are predominately used to help meet the local financial requirements needed to receive national matching-grant funds.
Subscribe now to get breaking news alerts in your email inbox
Get breaking news delivered to your inbox as it happens.