A Thurston County Superior Court jury found Shane D. Brewer, 34, guilty of several charges Monday. But, on those most serious and consequential — murder and robbery — members of the jury could not reach agreement.
Brewer was facing charges in connection with two incidents: the killing of a 45-year-old Loren VerValen at his home off Old Highway 99 on Dec. 22, 2018, and a burglary at an Olympia sporting goods store the day before.
VerValen died of three gunshot wounds fired from a .223 rifle, according to a prosecutor's statement of probable cause.
Also according to the prosecutor's statement:
A detective was investigating a stolen ATV at VerValen's home on Dec. 22 and saw the man's Mustang parked in front. The home's door was open, but nobody answered when the detective called inside. A few hours later, the Mustang was still there, but loaded with tools and other items, and the home's door was closed.
Later that day, VerValen's girlfriend reported a Honda car, later found to be Brewer's, parked at VerValen's house that she didn't recognize. His girlfriend went into the house and found VerValen dead.
Brewer told detectives his car was there because he was partying at a home nearby, but that home's owner denied it.
Detectives later found VerValen's Mustang, wallet, and other belongings in Brewer's garage, according to the statement, along with ammunition and two firearms — one of which was a .223 rifle — stolen from Big 5 Sporting Goods the day before VerValen was killed.
After following a "ping" of Brewer's cell phone, detectives found another gun that had been stolen from Big 5. Brewer was later found in bushes near that residence.
He was taken into custody after a K9 track and said he "was set up," according to the prosecutor's statement.
Thurston County Prosecuting Attorney Jon Tunheim argued in closing arguments last week that Brewer broke into Big 5, stole the guns and was trying to sell them.
Based on text messages, Facebook messages, and cell phone locations, Tunheim claimed Brewer was near VerValen's house that morning and that he killed VerValen with one of the stolen guns, then robbed him and asked friends to create a distraction while police were at the scene.
Brewer's defense attorney Jared Ausserer conceded in closing arguments that Brewer did commit the Big 5 burglary and that he had possession of the stolen car.
However, he argued there were several reasons to doubt that Brewer killed VerValen.
In part, Ausserer said evidence showed a man who lived with VerValen and was friends with Brewer — the man being investigated in the stolen ATV case — had a motive to kill VerValen.
The jury returned guilty verdicts Monday on one count of first-degree burglary, four counts of theft of a firearm, three counts of unlawful possession of a firearm, second-degree malicious mischief, and possession of a stolen vehicle. They also found Brewer was armed with a firearm while committing the Big 5 burglary in a special verdict.
It did not return a verdict on murder and robbery charges related to VerValen's slaying.
Judge James Dixon declared a mistrial on those charges due to the hung jury, Prosecutor Tunheim told The Olympian. He expects there to be a retrial, and the case already has been reassigned to Judge Dixon. A plea deal remains a possibility.
Brewer's sentencing will likely not happen until after these other charges are resolved, Tunheim said.
In the meantime, Brewer is being held in Thurston County jail and has been ordered not to have contact with witnesses or VerValen's family members.
"We're just in a holding pattern pending that retrial," Tunheim said.
Due to the COVID-19 public health crisis, all trials at Thurston County Superior Court are currently being delayed.