The Umatilla County Sheriff’s Office late Wednesday revealed what led to the arrest and charges in the fire-related death of Marcos Jesus Gutierrez-Rodriguez in Milton-Freewater.
The Umatilla County Sheriff’s Office in a written statement reported detectives received new information in the case that led to charging Conor Michael Dayton, 24, of Milton-Freewater, with abuse of a corpse and tampering with physical evidence.
“At the time of the fire and discovery of Mr. Gutierrez-Rodriguez’s body, there was insufficient evidence to prove a criminal case,” according to the statement. Deputies and detectives continued to follow leads and talk to witnesses and persons of interest, including Dayton, an acquaintance of the victim.
Sheriff’s detective Kacey Ward and Oregon State Police detective Damian Acosta on Friday questioned Dayton, according to the statement, and Dayton “provided information that he started the fire that burned Mr. Gutierrez-Rodriguez.”
Firefighters and police found Gutierrez-Rodriguez’s body after extinguishing an outdoor fire early May 22 under the Eastside Bridge along the Walla Walla River. The sheriff’s office at the time said there was no foul play, and it appeared he died from a cooking fire mishap.
The sheriff’s office Wednesday stated Dayton told the detectives he found Gutierrez-Rodriguez’s body at the location and started the fire to hide his drug use. The Oregon State Medical Examiner’s Office reported Gutierrez-Rodriguez “had very high levels of methamphetamine in his system,” according to the sheriff’s office, “and his body was badly damaged from the fire.”
The sheriff’s office reported its investigation continues with the support of the Oregon State Police, Oregon State Medical Examiner’s Office, the Hermiston Police Department and the Umatilla County District Attorney’s Office.
Circuit Judge Jon Lieuallen set bail at $50,000 for the case. Dayton’s next court hearing is Tuesday.
“We will release more information at a later time,” the statement concluded.