A Thurston County Superior Court jury has found Shane Brewer, 35, guilty of first-degree murder and first-degree robbery just over a year after another jury could not.
Prosecutors accused Brewer of killing Loren VerValen, 45, at his home off Old Highway 99 on Dec. 22, 2018 and of burglarizing a Big 5 sporting goods store in Olympia the day before. The verdicts delivered Thursday came after a mistrial in March 2020 and lengthy delays in a retrial due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Last year, the first jury found Brewer guilty 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, the Olympian previously reported.
A prosecutor’s statement of probable cause from December 2018 described law enforcement’s investigation into the killing.
On Dec. 22, a deputy investigating a stolen ATV at VerValen’s home noticed a Mustang parked out front, per the statement. Though the door was open, nobody answered the deputy’s calls, the prosecutor claimed.
The deputy returned a few hours later and noticed the Mustang was still there, according to the statement, but by then it was loaded with tools and other items. The deputy reported seeing that the door that was previously open was closed.
Later that day, VerValen’s girlfriend noticed the Mustang was gone and a strange car was parked out front, the prosecutor claimed. Inside the home, she found VerValen dead in his room, according to court records.
Deputies later determined the strange car belonged to Brewer. The statement indicates detectives found the stolen Mustang in Brewer’s garage, along with ammunition and firearms — one of which was a .223 rifle taken from the Big 5.
Using cell phone “pings,” detectives located Brewer hiding in some bushes near a residence. There, they also found another stolen gun from the Big 5, according to the statement.
In speaking to detectives, Brewer claimed he was set up. He said he left his car at the VerValen residence because he was partying at a home nearby, but the homeowner denied that occurred.
Brewer also told detectives VerValen had sold him the car, the prosecutor said.
Using Facebook messages, cell phone locations and evidence from the scene, Thurston County Prosecutor Jon Tunheim argued to the jury that Brewer shot VerValen three times at his home with a .223 rifle as he robbed him of several possessions, including his Mustang vehicle.
Tunheim also presented testimony from an unrelated individual who claimed he heard Brewer admit to killing the owner of the Mustang.
Brewer’s defense attorney Jared Ausserer conceded that Brewer burglarized the Big 5 and possessed the stolen Mustang, but he presented several reasons to doubt Brewer robbed and murdered VerValen.
In closing arguments, Ausserer cast a spotlight on Brewer’s former friend who lived with VerValen and was being investigated in a stolen ATV case. To sow seeds of doubt in the jury, Ausserer argued this man had more motive to kill VerValen and could have framed Brewer in an elaborate ploy.
However, Tunheim rebutted Ausserer’s scenario and asked the jury to consider the totality of evidence against Brewer.
In the end, the jury returned guilty verdicts for first-degree murder and first-degree robbery. They also added a special verdict that Brewer possessed a firearm during both crimes.
Amid COVID-19 restrictions, the jury decided the case at a building separate from the main campus courthouse.
Judge James Dixon presided over the trial in a repurposed office space at 2404 Chandler Court in Olympia. The county leased the space last October to help address a mounting case backlog in a space that permitted physical distancing.
Masked jurors sat 6 feet apart in a white walled, carpeted room lined with obtrusive columns. Meanwhile, the prosecution and defense occupied the left side of the room in an unusual arrangement for unusual times.
Following the guilty verdicts, Brewer must now be scheduled for sentencing. As of Friday, a date for this had yet to be set, but once completed it will close out one of the court’s first cases to see a jury trial in months.