After a short four hours of deliberation a jury in Skamania County, Wash., has found Damian Bradley Belander guilty of murdering Newberg native Brian Bodle.
The trial stretched on nearly five days for the Dayton resident arrested a few weeks after Bodle's body was found on Jan. 24, 2019, near the intersection of two U.S. Forest Service roads in a heavily-timbered area near Mount St. Helens. The jury began at 4 p.m. and completed its deliberations by 8 p.m. Friday.
White Salmon (Wash.) attorney Christopher Lanz was appointed by the court to defend Belander during the trial, court records show. Belander's defense followed his strategy during interviews by law enforcement in the days and weeks after the murder, a "general denial" of all the facts of the case, said Skamania County District Attorney Adam Kick, who prosecuted the case. Belander didn't take the witness stand during the trial.
"I believe the key piece of evidence that convinced the jury that Mr. Belander was guilty was that he was obviously lying about his whereabouts and involvement to law enforcement when they initially questioned him about the case," Kick said. "Skamania County Detective Jeremy Schultz did an exhaustive investigation and was able to demonstrate that Mr. Belander was lying about his whereabouts and connection to the burned-out minivan that was located near where Mr. Bodle was found."
Kick added that the shear amount of evidence pointing to Belander as the culprit ultimately was responsible for his downfall.
"There was a ton of evidence, from cell phone tower information, phone and text activity, surveillance and witness interviews, and even Facebook messages that all helped demonstrate Mr. Belander's dishonest attempt to mislead law enforcement," Kick said. "There were at least 30 witnesses in the trial, most of whom had no connection to the defendant or the victim, Mr. Bodle."
Lanz said Wednesday he will appeal the verdict.
"There were many pretrial decisions made by the court admitting pieces of evidence, which I anticipate shall be reviewed by the Court of Appeals," he said.
Lanz declined comment on whether he thought the verdict was appropriate, the swiftness of the verdict and Belander's insistence that he'd never been to Skamania County and had no knowledge of the van found adjacent to Bodle's body.
The prosecution's case against Belander was complex and had to withstand numerous motions by Lanz to have certain aspects of the case squelched or evidence dismissed entirely.
"The most challenging part of the case turned out to be getting all of the evidence in front of the jury in a way that they could understand it," Kick said. "We had to schedule a dozen or more professional witnesses, both from Washington and from out of state (and) some who had to fly here from as far away as Texas.
"We also needed to secure the testimony of about a dozen civilian witnesses from Oregon that we never could have located on our own."
Kick praised the cooperation his office received from the law enforcement community in Yamhill County.
"Frankly, without the assistance of the Yamhill County prosecutor's office … we never would have been able to secure the witnesses we needed. I've never worked with more helpful or conscientious professionals."
Complicating matters was Belander's insistence that Oregon extradite him immediately to Washington once he served a two-month sentence in an unrelated case in Yamhill County, and his refusal to waive his right to speedy trial, which required quick action by the prosecution.
"So everything we did was on a very short clock and it required a lot of work from a lot of different people," Kick said.
Belander was indicted in Washington for first-degree premeditated murder, first-degree murder in the course of another crime, second-degree intentional murder, second-degree intentional murder in the course of a felony and second-degree arson.
The jury convicted Belander, 22, on all counts, although the four murder charges will likely merge into one count of first-degree intentional murder (with a deadly weapon), as well as the arson charge, Kick said. The prosecutor's office attempted to negotiate a plea deal with Belander prior to the trial, "but he never showed any interest in taking responsibility," Kick said.
Belander is scheduled for sentencing on Feb. 27.
The standard range for sentencing for first-degree murder in Washington is 240 to 320 months (20 to 26.5 years), Kick said, although his office has yet to research Belander's past criminal history, which could add to the sentence. There is also a 24-month mandatory additional sentence for murder when armed with a deadly weapon, which Belander was found to have been.
"Depending on his criminal history, he will have an additional 31 (minimum) to 130 (maximum) months added to his sentence," Kick said, adding his office expects a sentence of between 25 and 32 years.
Superior Court Judge Randall Krog ordered that a risk assessment be done prior to sentencing as well.
Lanz said at the time of sentencing that he and the prosecution will argue the appropriate sentence. Like Oregon, Washington applies a system where the level of the crime in the defendant's "offender score" yields a standard sentencing range a judge must adhere to.
Members of Bodle's immediate and extended family were on hand for all five days of trial and were there when the verdict was read Friday evening, Kick said.
Details of the case
A probable cause affidavit filed by Schultz said that Bodle, characterized by Yamhill County Sheriff's detectives as "well known in the narcotics community as a dealer (who) had recently made some transactions which aggravated the buyers," got on the wrong side of Belander, a known drug user, and was murdered as a result.
Bodle's body was found on Jan. 24, 2019, adjacent to a burned minivan six miles east of Cougar, Wash.
An autopsy determined he had died from blunt force trauma to the head and was killed at the site in the forest.
The investigation into the death revealed that the minivan belonged to a former boyfriend of Belander's mother. That linked him to the crime scene and proved the impetus for building a case against the defendant.
Belander was interviewed by Washington authorities in late January 2019, claiming his innocence.
"During our conversation with Belander, he denied ever going to Washington state as well as Skamania County, advising he didn't know where Skamania County was," Schultz wrote in the probable cause affidavit. "He also denied ever driving a red Voyager minivan. … Belander stated the only 'Brian' he knew of was in prison somewhere on the east coast of the United States."
However, evidence gathered from cell phone records, Facebook records and interviews placed Belander in southwest Washington at the time of the murder and indicated he reached out to friends to cover up his alleged crime, including asking one friend to bring him clothes in Portland because his were "wet and bloody."
Schultz's investigation also included discovery of surveillance video from facilities owned by Skamania County that showed the van, followed by a small red sedan, traveling a rural road near where Bodle was found dead. The sedan was seen about a half-hour later returning toward Cougar; the van was never seen again.
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