Murder defendant Tyree Houfmuse of Hermiston is seeking release from jail while the state has asked to delay his trial as it waits for more work by the crime lab.
The Umatilla County District Attorney’s Office on Tuesday filed a motion that would stall the trial — now set to begin April 30 — until November. The DA’s office claims the delay is necessary because more tests are still needed from the Oregon State Crime Lab, while Houfmuse’s attorney says he should at least be given the opportunity to make bail.
Houfmuse, 35, faces murder, first-degree manslaughter and weapons charges in the May 2017 shooting death of James Cragun. Houfmuse has been in the county jail in Pendleton since his arrest in June with bail set at more than $1 million.
Defense attorney Kara Davis in a motion filed Wednesday claims if the state gets the delay, her client will have been in jail almost a year-and-a-half while being presumptively innocent.
“Credit for time served as a remedy is meaningless in the case of an acquittal,” she states.
Davis also explains the district attorney declined to hold a bail hearing to show a judge the proof is evident or the presumption strong that Houfmuse killed Cragun. Oregon’s constitution, she argues, mandates the court to set reasonable bail.
Houfmuse is claiming self defense. Davis in court documents asserts Cragun was violent, violated restraining orders not to contact his ex-girlfriend and sent her text messages using a racial slur to refer to Houfmuse, an African-American, and stated “I’m going to kill him then myself.”
Houfmuse was aware of the threats when they fought, according to Davis, and Cragun had the gun and charged Houfmuse. Cragun, however, died from a gunshot wound.
“You’re allowed to use lethal force anytime someone is trying to commit a serious personal felony against you and as long as it’s reasonable,” Davis said.
After filing her documents with the court, Davis said, she received a crime lab report ruling Houfmuse’s DNA on the gun was “inconclusive.” Cragun’s DNA, however, was on the gun. Still, she said, she did not understand how her client’s DNA would make a difference in the state’s trial tactics.
“This is a self defense case,” she said. “Why would you need his DNA on the gun?”
District Attorney Dan Primus did not immediately return a call seeking comment, but in its request his office said testing won’t be done in time for an April trial.
“The state just received a new report from the Oregon State Crime Lab, which will affect how this case will be tried, and, additionally, there are still tests being done by the crime lab,” according to the request. “We have been told that there is no way these tests can be completed by the trial date as currently set.”
Davis said she does not know of any new evidence.
“All the evidence the state has is evidence that would have been seized at the time of the shooting or shortly thereafter,” she said in an interview with the East Oregonian.
In her motion, Davis wrote: “Because the state’s case is weak at best and because the Oregon State Police Crime Lab’s own tests further weaken the case against Mr. Houfmuse, Defense asks for his release or at least a significant reduction in bail.”
Davis also filed motions asking the court to hold a separate trial for the manslaughter charge, suppress evidence from a police search and not allow statements Houfmuse made after he told police he should probably talk to a lawyer.
The state has until the end of March to respond to Davis’ filings. But the court likely will have to consider the state’s motion to delay and the defense’s motion for release well before then because of the April 18 trial date.
Contact Phil Wright at firstname.lastname@example.org or 541-966-0833.