Montana Man Found Guilty in Strangulation of Casino Worker

Posted on: March 28, 2021, 03:15h. 

Last updated on: March 28, 2021, 07:56h.

The fatal strangulation of a Cedar Ridge, Montana casino employee almost two years ago has resulted in a guilty verdict.

Hernandez faces life in prison
Lori Bray, left, Diego Hernandez shown here. Last week, a Montana jury found Hernandez guilty in Bray’s death. She worked at a casino. (Image: MTN News)

Last week, Diego Hernandez, 24, of Laurel, Mont., was found guilty of deliberate homicide in the October 2019 murder of Lori Bray, 57. A Yellowstone County jury deliberated for about two hours before making its decision.

During the trial, it was revealed Hernandez got a ride from Bray after her late-night shift ended at the relatively small Laurel casino.

Before giving him the ride, Bray closed the gaming venue. Hernandez exited and waited for her outside for about 26 minutes.

He was the only other person at the gaming property at that time, according to the Billings Gazette, a local newspaper.

In her closing argument to the jury, Senior Deputy Yellowstone County Attorney Ingrid Rosenquist, who prosecuted the case, noted how Hernandez changed his versions of events.

“It bobs and weaves as he’s confronted with more facts in the investigation,” she was quoted by the Gazette.

During his first two interviews with the Yellowstone County Sheriff’s Office, he said he did not know Bray well, but got a ride home from her that night, the Gazette said.

But in the third interview, Hernandez claimed he and Bray were in a relationship for a year and a half. The couple had sex on the night she gave him a ride home, Hernandez told authorities, the Gazette said.

He and Bray went to a shack near his home where they engaged in sex, Hernandez had told police. Hernandez further claimed that afterward Bray was alive and drove away.

But before his interaction with Bray that night, Hernandez made other attempts at getting rides with women. The day before Bray went missing, Hernandez went to the Planet Lockwood strip club in Billings.

He tried to get a woman there to leave with him. But a third person, who was driving Hernandez that night, said he would not drive her, too.

The dispute led to the driver and Hernandez getting into a fight, the report said.

On the following night, Hernandez went first to The Locomotive, another local casino.

While there, he asked a female bartender twice to give him a ride home, the report said. She refused. He then went to Cedar Ridge.

Footprints, DNA Used to Convict Hernandez

Physical evidence played a key role in the murder trial. Dr. Robert Kurtzman, Montana’s medical examiner, ruled Bray died from manual strangulation. Blunt force injuries were also seen on her face. She also suffered multiple broken ribs.

Also, prosecutors revealed DNA discovered under Bray’s fingernails matched that of Hernandez. He had suffered scratches that were not present before getting the ride from Bray, prosecutors add.

After her disappearance, Bray’s car was found north of Laurel. Inside was a purse and cell phone. Some clothes were outside the car.

Cash in the wallet was missing. A seat was bloodstained. Mud was also in the car.

Her naked corpse was discovered in a ravine some three miles from the car, the AP reported.

Shoes later seized from Hernandez’s home had the same tread pattern on the soles that were found on the ground where Bray’s body was discovered, the AP said. It also matched footprints in the car, the report adds.

Claimed Affair With Hernandez Kept Secret

In his closing argument, defense attorney Joel Thompson argued Bray was using methadone and those close to her were unaware of it.

“She was engaged in something that no one in her life knew about,” Thompson was quoted by the Gazette. “Is it so unreasonable to think she could have engaged in an illicit affair with a young man, and nobody knew that secret either?”

During the trial, defense attorneys did not present any witnesses, the report adds. Hernandez had entered a “not guilty” plea in court before the trial began.

When sentenced, Hernandez could face spending life in prison.