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Jury convicts man of murder for death of Laurel woman

Diego Hernandez facing camera .png
Posted at 1:20 PM, Mar 22, 2021

BILLINGS - A Yellowstone County District Court jury convicted a man of murder Monday for the death of a Laurel woman.

The verdict at the trial of Diego Hernandez was reached early Monday afternoon after one hour and fifty minutes of deliberation on the sixth day of trial.

Hernandez, 24, was found guilty of deliberate homicide for the Oct. 1, 2019 strangulation death of 57-year-old Lori Bray.

Before the verdict was reached, prosecutors and the defense presented their final arguments. Hernandez did not testify.

During final arguments, prosecutors focused on the main points of their case, including:

  • the scratches on Hernandez's face
  • blood stained seat fabric from Bray's car
  • wounds and bruises on Bray's face
  • cigarettes packages from Hernandez that were left in Bray's car
  • Hernandez's bleached clothing
  • gaps in Hernandez's time frame
  • eye witness testimonies

Hernandez previously pleaded not guilty to the charge and had said to officers that he and Bray knew one another and had a sexual relationship.

Prosecutors used video evidence and statements from Hernandez to prove that Bray had agreed to give him a ride home from the Cedar Ridge Casino where she worked on the night of her death.

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Diego Hernandez trial

Hernandez and Bray did not have prior contact or knowledge of one another on Oct. 1, according to phone records from Bray's phone and her actions toward Hernandez seen on surveillance footage.

Witness testimony showed that Hernandez did not have scratches on his face prior meeting Bray that night.

The prosecution presented the jury with video evidence of Bray locking up and leaving the casino minutes after midnight, and driving off with Hernandez in the vehicle.

In later interviews with investigators, Hernandez said that he and Bray talked about getting his life together for a few minutes while in the car. Shortly after he and Bray went to the shack near his home where they smoked cigarettes and had sex.

Hernandez said that this was the last time he had seen Bray as she drove away from his home.

Prosecutors presented the jury with the blood stained seat in her car, that upon further investigation was determined highly unlikely to not be a mix of Hernandez and Bray's blood.

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Diego Hernandez trial

Mud was also found in the car along with a broken turn signal stock and clothes spread around the vehicle, indicated that there was a fight or struggle.

The jury was presented with photo evidence, showing that shoes found at Hernandez's home had the same tread pattern that was found at the scene where Bray's body was found and matched footprints in her car.

Prosecutors also presented the jury with cellular location data from Bray's phone on the night she was killed. The data shows Bray's phone was in the area of the casino, Hernandez's home, the area where her body was found, and the area where her car was later discovered.

Hernandez's defense attorneys called no witnesses and rested their case Monday morning. Jury deliberations began a short time later.

RELATED: Prosecutors present new statements from defendant Hernandez in Laurel murder trial