The brother of a Portland musician who was shot to death on a remote Cascades hiking trail last summer has asked Washington’s state attorney general to take over the investigation.
In a May 25 letter sent to Lewis County prosecuting attorney Jonathan Meyer and Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, Portland lawyer Pilar C. French asked the elected officials to call for an independent review of the case by Attorney General Robert Ferguson.
French represents Silverton music teacher Corey Christensen, Aron Christensen’s brother.
The plea came in the same month his sister and brother-in-law, acting as Aron Christensen’s estate, confirmed they plan to file a $20 million lawsuit against the Lewis County Sheriff’s Office, alleging detectives purposely and maliciously “sabotaged” the investigation into Aron Christensen’s death.
Aron Christensen, on an annual camping trip with friends, set out August 19 on a solo hike with his four-month-old cattle dog, Buzzo, up the Walupt Lake Trail in Washington’s Cascade Mountains. The 49-year-old avid outdoorsman, who grew up in Klamath Falls, was expected to return to the campground the next afternoon.
Instead, the next day a pair of hikers reported finding a man’s body near the trail, next to the body of a small dog.
Even though those hikers – and another couple who were riding on horseback – told law enforcement they saw what looked like a gunshot wound, the first deputy to reach Aron Christensen’s body decided a homicide detective wasn’t needed at the scene. When his supervisor agreed, the deputy called for help to bag and remove the bodies. Minimal evidence was collected from the scene, according to case records that have been publicly released.
The investigation into the deaths turned into a tumultuous, frustrating waiting game for Aron Christensen’s family and friends that lasted more than seven months.
Meyer, the Lewis County prosecutor, ultimately decided there wasn’t enough evidence to bring felony manslaughter charges against the only suspect in the fatal shooting.
A 20-year-old Lewis County man named Ethan Asbach admitted he fired a gun on Aug. 19, 2022, in the area where the bodies of Christensen and Christensen’s dog were later found, and forensic evidence linked the bullet that killed Christensen to Asbach’s gun, according to the Lewis County Sheriff’s Office investigation. Asbach said he was hiking on the trail with his then-16-year-old girlfriend.
The evidence didn’t meet the threshold for proving criminal recklessness or criminal negligence, Meyer determined. In his decline-to-prosecute letter, he pointed out that Lewis County police officers, detectives and forensics professionals made mistakes that compromised the case.
“The old adage of ‘investigate it like it’s a homicide until it isn’t’ was not followed here,” he wrote.
Meyer wrote that the case was “problematic from the onset” and listed various errors beyond the initial failures at the crime scene, including likely cross-contamination when the same tools were used during the autopsies of Aron Christensen and his dog.
“Had the case been fully investigated, and from the beginning been treated like a homicide, I don’t know what evidence would have been found,” Meyer told The Oregonian/OregonLive in April. “It’s hard to say… All I know is, with the evidence we have now, there’s not enough to go forward.”
Meyer personally interviewed Dr. Megan Quinn, the pathologist who worked on the case. She told him she believed she was being “given a narrative” by the Lewis County Sheriff’s Office and was expected to make findings that fit with that story, according to Meyer’s own account. The sheriff’s office wanted Quinn to conclude that Aron Christensen died from a heart attack before he was shot, Corey Christensen and his lawyer allege.
Quinn concluded that Aron Christensen was alive when the bullet entered his body.
French, Corey Christensen’s lawyer, copied several federal and Oregon officials in her letter calling for an independent investigation.
In an email response the next day, May 26, Meyer said French’s letter didn’t provide any “new information” and that his office would not take any further action.
Gov. Inslee on Tuesday confirmed his office had received the letter and forwarded it to his legal team. Attorney General Ferguson has not responded to the letter.
Corey Christensen said if the Washington attorney general won’t investigate either the homicide or the Lewis County Sheriff’s Office for mishandling the case, then he’ll go to the FBI next.
“Clearly Oregonians should not be camping and hiking in Washington if public safety is lacking.”