The murder trial for a Renton man accused in the shooting death of a precious metals shop employee entered its fifth day Friday, with the prosecutor continuing to question witnesses.
Clark County Medical Examiner Martha J. Burt and two employees of a Motel 6 in Kalama, who saw the defendant and his girlfriend, were among the witnesses who testified.
Thomas Phillip Leae, 25, is facing murder, robbery and rendering criminal assistance, all in the first degree, in the Nov. 25, 2015, slaying of 58-year-old Bentley Brookes of Camas. Brookes worked at Pacific Bullion Precious Metals, 701 Main St., in downtown Vancouver.
Leae’s girlfriend, 18-year-old Ailiana Siufanua of Des Moines, shot Brookes in the face while robbing the shop; Leae acted as the getaway driver, court records state.
After the shooting, the couple fled and were on the lam for days before the stolen Honda Civic they were driving was spotted Nov. 30, 2015, on Interstate 5 in Glenn County, Calif., by a California Highway Patrol officer. A 40-mile, high-speed pursuit ensued, which ended when the stolen car left the road and struck a tree killing Siufanua, according to The Davis (Calif.) Enterprise.
During his opening statement, Senior Deputy Prosecutor Kasey Vu argued the state’s case would establish that Leae and Siufanua were seen together in the area in the days leading up to the shooting.
Michelle Shertzer, the manager of what was once a Motel 6 in Kalama, said she helped the couple Nov. 14 and 15. They checked in sometime after midnight on both nights, she said. Shertzer told Vu there was nothing memorable about their stay beyond having to knock on their door both mornings for failing to check out on time. Siufanua answered the door on one of those days, Shertzer said. Vu asked Shertzer to examine receipts for the overnight stays, which were bought under Leae’s name.
Desk clerk Courtney Brumitt said she checked Leae into the motel Nov. 26. She testified that Leae had blood on his hand, which concerned her. She also testified a woman who accompanied Leae stood outside in the dark, wearing a hood.
When later contacted by Vancouver detectives, both motel employees picked Leae out of a photo laydown of six people, according to their testimony.
Burt testified that she responded to Pacific Bullion on the day of the fatal shooting at the investigators’ request. She moved Brookes’ body to a transportation vehicle and conducted a cursory examination. At that time, she did not see a bullet wound, she said, due to a large amount of blood.
Burt conducted an autopsy two days later, likely because police had asked her to postpone the exam after having worked around the clock, she said. She determined Brookes had been shot in the middle of the nose. The bullet traveled through the lower surface of Brookes’ brain, she said.
“The (damage to the brain) showed the death was likely nearly instantaneous,” Burt told the jurors.
The trial is scheduled to continue Monday with more state witnesses.