Murder charge dropped against Houfmuse

Tyree Houfmuse listens to his defense attorney Kara Davis during a pre-trial hearing in March at the Stafford Hansell Government Center in Hermiston.

Tyree Houfmuse has spent the last 14 months in jail facing a slew of charges in the death of James Cragun.

On Monday, the Hermiston man pleaded guilty to a single count of felon in possession of a firearm and was sentenced to 25 months behind bars.

Judge Patricia Sullivan dismissed all other charges, including murder, manslaughter, and unlawful use of a weapon, due to insufficient evidence.

Houfmuse, 36, was arrested in June 2017 and charged with killing Cragun, who died from a gunshot wound on Memorial Day weekend in 2017.

The two men knew each other. The night Cragun died, Houfmuse was with a woman they both had dated and who is the mother of one of Cragun’s children.

In court proceedings that have spanned more than a year, Houfmuse has repeatedly claimed self-defense, stating that Cragun charged at him, and had been making statements in the days leading up to his death threatening Houfmuse’s life.

Judge Eva Temple, who had presided over the case from the beginning, was recently disqualified from presiding over criminal cases by District Attorney Dan Primus, and the case had been turned over to Sullivan in the last week.

Primus released a brief statement about the settlement Monday afternoon. He said Houfmuse pleaded guilty on a new case, following a court decision made last week requiring the state to try the murder and felon in possession charges separately. The release said the court was concerned that trying the two together would be too prejudicial to the defendant.

“At the same time this ruling to sever was made, the court also ruled that defendant’s statements would be inadmissible, leaving insufficient evidence for the state to continue to proceed to trial on the murder,” the statement said.

Primus could not be reached for further comment.

Houfmuse’s attorney, Kara Davis, said her client always had a strong self-defense case.

“Oregon is a stand-your-ground state,” she said. “If someone charges you, you have the right to defend yourself.”

She said the lack of conclusive forensic evidence also played a part. The state crime lab found that Cragun was the primary contributor of DNA on the gun, and Houfmuse’s DNA was not found on the gun — a fact the state could not explain.

But Davis said one of the biggest factors in the final outcome was the judge’s decision to suppress Houfmuse’s statements.

“I think that was the final nail in the coffin for the state’s case,” she said.

Davis said had the case gone to trial, the only charge on which she would have been concerned about a conviction was felon in possession of a firearm.

She said Houfmuse agreed to plead guilty to possessing the firearm after it went off. The gun was found in a field a few hundred yards away from the apartment complex where Cragun died.

“It was tragic, but just because it’s tragic doesn’t make it criminal,” Davis said. “It was never a good case for murder.”

During a hearing in May, Temple heard more than eight hours of video and audio interviews with Houfmuse and several witnesses, including a woman both Houfmuse and Cragun had dated, and two other women, all of whom were present the night Cragun died.

According to descriptions from witnesses and Houfmuse, that night Cragun drove up to the apartment that Houfmuse and Cragun’s ex-girlfriend were about to enter, got out of the car, jumped over a hedge and started coming toward Houfmuse.

Houfmuse said Cragun came running toward him and took a gun out of a bag. Houfmuse said he grabbed Cragun’s hands and twisted the gun, and the gun went off.

Autopsy reports showed the entry point of the bullet on Cragun’s upper left back area. Primus said during a May hearing that the angle made it impossible for the gun to have been twisted as Houfmuse claimed.

Cragun had been convicted of assaulting the woman two years before his death, and she had a restraining order against him. The video interviews and court documents revealed that Cragun had been calling her and sending her threatening text messages, threatening Houfmuse’s life and hers.

This is the fourth time Houfmuse has faced charges for a shooting. In both 2000 and 2005 he was charged with attempt to commit murder, and both charges were dismissed. He was also charged in 2014 with a shooting outside a bar in Kennewick that left a man paralyzed, but a jury decided that he acted in self-defense.

Davis said she is not concerned about Houfmuse committing other crimes once he is released.

“He’s not a scary person to me at all,” she said. “I think he’s had some really unfortunate incidents. I think if he can start again in a new place, he won’t have to worry about a reputation.”

Hermiston Police Chief Jason Edmiston said he was confident the department had identified all the people involved in Cragun’s death.

“There’s not a shooter floating around,” he said.

He said he had been in contact with Primus throughout the case.

“I can say that this has really worn on him and his office,” he said.

Edmiston said based on the evidence, this outcome was the most they could hope for.

“Unfortunately this was all that could be proven beyond a reasonable doubt,” he said.

Cragun’s mother, Beverly, was in the courtroom Monday. Cragun’s entire immediate family has been present throughout the hearings.

“He didn’t get what he deserved,” she said. “He’s going to kill again. I feel sorry for the family who’s going to have to go through what my family has been going through.”

She said the family is going to try to pick up the pieces and go on with their lives without their son.

Davis said with Houfmuse’s credit for the time he’s already spent in jail, plus five months that will be taken off his sentence for “good time,” or time off for good behavior, he will likely spend between two and five more months in jail.

She said Houfmuse did not say anything during the settlement.

“This is a tragic situation no matter how you look at it,” she said. “There was no way he wanted to say anything to make Mr. Cragun’s family feel like he was gloating. There’s no right thing to say.”


Contact Jayati Ramakrishnan at jramakrishnan@eastoregonian.com or 541-564-4534.

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