Two men have been arrested in connection to the killing of a man near People’s Park.
The victim, Andy Hernandez, was found Oct. 23 gagged and his hands tied together along a dirt trail near the confluence of Latah Creek and the Spokane River.
John Birgen, 26, and Randy Slone, 27, were both arrested on suspicion of first-degree kidnapping and first-degree murder. Police are searching for a third suspect, an 18-year-old woman, who is wanted on the same charges as Birgen and Slone, according to court documents.
Hernandez, 51, died of blunt-force trauma and lack of oxygen, the Spokane County Medical Examiner’s Office said last week after identifying him.
Court documents said the autopsy determined he had a broken neck, extensive injuries to his throat, including a broken bone, and severe blunt-force trauma to the back of his head. He was bound with zip ties, electrical tape, straps and other material that resembled a bandana and clothing, court records said.
Hernandez’s death does not appear to be random, police said in a news release.
A witness told police he was searching for two friends at a nearby homeless camp when he discovered Hernandez’s body at about 4 p.m. on Oct. 23. Police officers found the body on a trail between a homeless encampment and a 3-mile bike trail, referred to as the “Mega Church Trail.”
Hernandez’s head was covered with a jacket or sweatshirt, and his hands were bound and had “large amounts” of blood on them from what may have been defensive wounds, court documents said. Officers also reported a pool of blood around Hernandez’s head and a 9 mm shell casing near his feet, as well as footprints around his body.
Police said in court documents the autopsy didn’t reveal any bullet wounds in Hernandez.
Birgen, who has a gang history, was arrested Oct. 29 for a Department of Corrections violation, according to documents. Police said Birgen had a large knife in a scabbard attached to his waist when he was arrested.
Slone was also arrested for allegedly failing a check-in with his Department of Corrections officer and was booked into the Airway Heights Corrections Center, according to court documents.
Birgen and Slone initially declined to talk to police about the investigation, but Slone later told police what happened the morning of Hernandez’s death according the court documents.
Slone told police he and his girlfriend, the 18-year-woman still sought by police, were in the area of Spokane’s Mission Park in the early hours of Oct. 23 when Birgen offered Slone and his girlfriend a ride.
Slone and Birgen were longtime friends, according to court documents.
When Slone and his girlfriend got in the car, Birgen received a call from someone who provided a location for a person later identified as Hernandez.
Slone told police that Birgen didn’t like Hernandez because Birgen alleged Hernandez raped Birgen’s friend while she was sleeping. Slone said the alleged rape was Birgen’s motive for killing Hernandez.
Spokane police spokeswoman Julie Humphreys said she could not comment on the veracity of the rape claim and whether police have investigated it, citing the ongoing murder investigation.
Slone said he and his girlfriend, along with Birgen, went to the area of the Nom Nom gas station near Division Street and Cataldo Avenue where Hernandez was, according to documents. When they got there, Birgen was holding his gun in his lap, documents said.
Birgen told Slone to use a zip tie and black bandana to tie Hernandez’s hands together, Slone told police. Birgen then told Slone to use electrical tape to tape Hernandez’s hands and tape his mouth so he couldn’t scream.
Slone said he worried Birgen was going to shoot him as he was binding and gagging Hernandez.
Slone said his girlfriend told him several times that night that Birgen planned on killing Slone for ratting out a friend of Birgen’s on an unrelated homicide case, documents said. After Slone bound Hernandez’s hands, they put Hernandez in the car.
Slone said he told Birgen that he was not going to be involved and Birgen responded by telling Slone and the girlfriend they had no choice in the matter and that he had enough bullets in his gun for all of them.
Slone told police Birgen then drove everyone to the area of a dog park. Everyone got out of the car when they arrived, except the girlfriend.
As they were walking, Slone tripped over a branch and pushed Hernandez. Slone said Birgen thought Hernandez was trying to run so he chased and tripped Hernandez, causing him to fall down the hill, Slone told police. Birgen then allegedly grabbed a large rock and started hitting Hernandez in the head with it.
Slone said Hernandez gasped for air as Birgen hit him. Birgen then stood up, grabbed the rope that was around Hernandez’s neck and started pulling it, according to Slone. Birgen then grabbed the rock and hit Hernandez on the back of his head again.
Slone said he did not assault Hernandez besides hitting him a couple times in the back of his head and assisted Birgen in tying rope around Hernandez’s neck, according to documents.
Slone said he and Birgen returned to the car. While Slone stayed with his girlfriend, Birgen returned to Hernandez, according to documents.
Slone said he heard a gunshot coming from where Hernandez was. A man living at the nearby homeless camp also told police he heard a loud bang that could have been a gunshot around 2:30 a.m.
Birgen returned to the car again and said “he ain’t living no more,” Slone told police.
Slone told police Birgen gave the girlfriend the gun and told her to take it apart. Police later found the barrel of the 9 mm Glock in the center console of Birgen’s 2001 Acura.
They also found a head-mounted flashlight, two folding knives, .40 caliber ammunition and two black bandanas similar in color and design of the black bandana used to bind Hernandez, court records said.
Birgen told another woman during a phone call while he was in jail that she needed to get rid of an item in the center console of the Acura and that she could break the car window to get it if necessary. He made other statements like “it’s over” if the police seized his car and that he would tell police “it was me.”
After the killing, Birgen, Slone and the girlfriend drove around for several hours to come up with a story about what happened, according to court documents. Slone said Birgen would not let him and his girlfriend out of the car until they came up with a plan. Slone said the alibi they settled on was they were at a mutual friend’s house during the time Hernandez was killed.
The girlfriend told police she had not been in Peaceful Valley, near where the murder happened, in about one year. She said she could not recall where she was or what she did between Oct. 21 and Oct. 23 – the days prior to and the day of Hernandez’s death, documents said.
Birgen and Slone were both held in the Spokane County Jail Wednesday night with $1 million bonds.
Spokane police said the investigation is ongoing.
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