Foley mug.jpg
Brian Myrick/Daily Record
Accused murderer Christopher Foley.
Updated Monday, August 22 at 10:55 a.m.

After deliberating for more than six hours, 12 Kittitas County jurors


Ellensburg Murder Trial Centers on a Bloody Mystery (UPDATE: Guilty!)

Foley mug.jpg
Brian Myrick/Daily Record
Accused murderer Christopher Foley.
Updated Monday, August 22 at 10:55 a.m.

After deliberating for more than six hours, 12 Kittitas County jurors reached a unanimous verdict at 7:10 p.m. Friday night. They found Christopher Foley guilty, but not of the second-degree murder charge he initially faced. Instead, Foley was convicted of first-degree manslaughter, a lesser charge that carries a sentence of up to 10 years in prison. The-last minute charge flip-flopping concludes a strange case marred by serious bungling by investigators and an alarming lack of physical evidence linking Foley to the violent slaying of his brother-in-law Russel Ray.

The switch from second-degree murder to first-degree manslaughter is completely legit under Washington state law. After the closing statements from the defense and prosecution, the judge in the case instructed the jury that in order to convict Foley of murder they needed to unanimously agree that he "acted with intent" to cause Ray's death. If they all believed, however, that Foley unintentionally killed Ray but acted with "reckless conduct," he could be convicted of the lesser charge.

Either way the jury had to be absolutely positive that Foley was the killer, and they were apparently certain despite the thin evidence gathered by the Kittitas County Sheriffs and put forth by prosecutors.

Check the original post below for the full story, but the bottom line is Foley was only arrested and charged because he fibbed about where he was on the day Ray disappeared, washed and painted the bed of his pickup truck the next day, and had a history of quarreling with Ray. That's all the proof that convinced 12 people beyond a reasonable doubt that Foley unintentionally bludgeoned Ray to death by clubbing him in the head with a wooden plank.

It's not as if the evidence was hard to come by--in many cases important clues were simply overlooked by investigators. The Ellensburg Daily Record reported Saturday on the fact that Kittitas County Sheriffs discovered two cell phones in the vicinity of Ray's corpse, then "totally forgot" about them until the day the trial was scheduled to begin. The phones only resurfaced when a detective cleaned out the evidence locker. Investigators also discarded a can of spray paint and some masking tape found in Foley's garbage, allegedly proof that he cleaned his truck to cover up blood or other evidence that the vehicle was used to transport Ray's body.

During the trial, Foley's attorney reportedly acknowledged his client's turbulent relationship with Ray, but argued that they were family and a petty dispute would not be cause for murder. They also trotted out witnesses who said Foley was meticulous about cleaning his truck, so the painting and pressure-washing wasn't necessarily incriminating.

Foley is scheduled to be sentenced later this week.

Original post follows...

Russel Ray was Mark Foley's brother-in-law, neighbor, and, briefly, business partner. The men had a falling-out in 2009 when their construction company folded and they couldn't agree how to divvy up the tools they had purchased. Their wives were sisters but Ray, 54, and Foley, 38, stopped speaking to each other after a pair of on-the-job fistfights. Then, in June 2010, Ray disappeared. His body was discovered nine months later, dumped in a ditch near a highway a few miles outside of Ellensburg. His skull had been bashed in. Despite a severe lack of evidence--no weapon, no DNA, and no eyewitnesses--prosecutors charged Foley with second-degree murder. He's on trial now, and the proceedings are the ultimate small-town potboiler.

Earlier this week, for instance, a DNA analyst from the Washington State Patrol testified that trace amounts of human blood were discovered in the locking mechanism of the canopy on Foley's pickup truck. The problem? The sample size was too small to draw any definitive conclusions.

When investigators searched Ray's property after his body was discovered, they found a blood-stained wooden board--hidden in a stack of lumber in a barn--that they suspect is the murder weapon. Testing revealed trace amounts of someone other than Ray's DNA, but the State Patrol "couldn't tell if it was from a man or woman, or even three different people," the Ellensburg Daily Record reports. Ray's blood was also found spattered in multiple areas around his property, including, oddly, around the family's backyard trampoline.

The murder trial is the first in nearly a decade in Ellensburg, an agricultural hub in the Kittitas Valley and the home of Central Washington University, and so the Daily Record has been publishing blow-by-blow accounts of the proceedings with daily dispatches that read like treatment chapters from a castoff Agatha Christie manuscript.

The chronicles are often amusingly detailed, such as the testimony from Ray's wife saying she feared the worst for her husband when she got home and saw that a pair of "red shorts printed with the Tasmanian Devil cartoon character that he normally put on after taking a shower were gone."

The most compelling evidence against Foley is purely circumstantial, including the fact that he had already cracked Ray in the head with a board once before. Ray, according to testimony from his brother, came looking for some missing tools in Foley's garage and ended up taking a two-by-four to the face.

Police fingered Foley as a suspect when he gave them "inconsistent statements" during an interrogation. He told detectives that he left for work in Olympia early in the morning on the day Ray disappeared, but multiple witnesses and video evidence put him in Ellensburg instead. What's more, Foley "pressure-washed his pickup the day after the murder" and the next week painted the bed of the truck.

Both steps would be perfect ways to cover up having transported a bloody body to a remote ditch somewhere, but they are hardly smoking guns. Will the jury see what seems to be the obvious "reasonable doubt" about Foley's guilt, or will the testimony about the bitter, ongoing family feud be enough to convict?

Tune in to next week's installment of Small Town Murder Mystery Theater to find out . . .

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