WALLA WALLA — A local woman has turned state’s evidence and pleaded guilty Monday afternoon in Superior Court to driving a murder suspect from the scene of the killing that occurred on New Year’s Eve or early the following day.
Breanne N. “Breezy” Rutherford, 21, entered the guilty plea to the charge of first-degree rendering criminal assistance.
In a deal with Prosecuting Attorney Jim Nagle, Rutherford has agreed to testify truthfully against Carlos Valdez, 17, who’s scheduled to be tried as an adult starting May 1 for the shooting death of 20-year-old Yesica Olivos.
Nagle told the Union-Bulletin Monday that Valdez allegedly killed Olivos because she supposedly failed to pay somebody for $150 of methamphetamine.
Rutherford was Valdez’s girlfriend at the time.
According to her plea agreement, she also will testify against Andres Torres-Rodriguez, 23, who is accused of first-degree rendering criminal assistance for allegedly disposing of the murder weapon. His trial is slated to begin March 11.
Rutherford faces a standard-range prison term of 13-17 months when she’s sentenced after the other defendants’ cases have been resolved.
But in exchange for her guilty plea and cooperation, Nagle and defense attorney Richard Wernette are recommending a drug-offender sentencing alternative of up to six months in a residential treatment program, followed by two years of community custody, a form of probation.
Nagle explained to the U-B that Rutherford claims to have been influenced by her methamphetamine addiction.
In addition, Nagle has agreed not to file charges against her in connected with the alleged discovery of forged checks in her purse.
Judge Scott Wolfram went along with a request Rutherford be released from the County Jail pending sentencing to live at an undisclosed location. She will be monitored by a GPS ankle bracelet.
Her cooperation in the murder investigation dates back to Jan. 17 when, at her request, she gave a statement to Sheriff’s Office Detective Sgt. Gary Bolster and Chief Operations Deputy John King without Wernette present.
Bolster testified at a court hearing last week that she asked for the interview, which was a little longer than an hour, perhaps to “free her conscience.”
Details of what was discussed in the interview were not disclosed at the hearing.
Officials believe that Valdez shot Olivos in the head sometime on the evening of Dec. 31 or early Jan. 1 on Frog Hollow Road where it turns into Mojonnier Road at the Walla Walla River Bridge.
She reportedly had been hanging out with the alleged gang member and other affiliates for a couple of days and had traveled to the area in a car occupied by Valdez and three other people, including Rutherford.
An unnamed source in the car was asleep, but awoke by a gunshot and saw Valdez drag Olivos to the edge of the road, according to a Sheriff’s Office report filed in court.
The source told officials Rutherford then got into the driver’s seat, Valdez into the passenger seat and they drove off.
Valdez later put the gun in Torres-Rodriguez’s truck and asked him to “go back and make sure that (Olivos) was dead,” the sheriff’s report says.
A passer-by discovered Olivos’ body down a 25-foot embankment on Jan. 3.
Nagle said officials believe Olivos was killed by a .22-caliber firearm. A couple of weapons, including a sawed-off rifle, have been recovered in connection with the investigation and are being analyzed by a state crime lab.
All three defendants were arrested Jan. 7 at a Spokane motel following a standoff with authorities there, then were transported to Walla Walla.
Valdez — who gives a Royal City, Wash., address — is being held in the Walla Walla County Jail on $500,000 bail. He faces 20-30 years in prison under the state’s standard-range sentencing laws if convicted as charged.
If Torres-Rodriguez, of 120 Natches St., is found guilty, his standard range would be 15-20 months based on his criminal history.
Bail for him is set at $250,000.
Terry McConn can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 526-8319.