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Prosecutors: Laurel woman was strangled, found nude in woods

bray nice shot and hernandez.PNG
Posted at 4:16 PM, Oct 10, 2019
and last updated 2019-10-11 12:22:01-04

BILLINGS — Authorities have determined Laurel woman Lori Bray died of strangulation, sometime after she was seen giving her alleged killer, Diego Hernandez, a ride home in the early morning hours after her shift at a casino.

Yellowstone County prosecutors stated in charging documents released Thursday that Bray, 57, gave a ride home to Hernandez, 22, in the early morning hours of Oct. 1 after her shift at the Cedar Ridge Casino. Captured on surveillance video from the casino, Bray is seen opening the passenger door of her car, a 2003 Chrysler, for the man to get inside.

Hernandez made his first appearance in Yellowstone County Justice Court Thursday afternoon on charges of deliberate homicide. Justice of the Peace Jeanne Walker set his bond at $500,000.

"The level of violence and brutality suffered by Ms. Bray is astonishing," Yellowstone County Chief Deputy Attorney Ed Zink said to the judge. "This was a violent crime and her end was violent and awful. Additional charges may be forthcoming as additional evidence comes forward. Five hundred thousand dollars is warranted by the facts and the egregious nature of those facts in this case."

Bray's nude and beaten body was discovered in the evening of Oct. 2 on Yard Office Road behind two trees east of Laurel, a few miles away from where her car had been found near the Yellowstone National Cemetery, according to an affidavit filed by Zink. Evidence of blunt force trauma was also discovered on her head.

Inside her car, police found a pair of pants with women's underwear inside and a bra with bent clasps, an indication it had been forcibly removed, prosecutors said.

Dark red spots that appeared to be blood stains were found on the pants and inside the car.

Bray had been reported missing after she didn't show up to work on the afternoon of Oct. 1. That night, a regular casino patron identified Hernandez, and Yellowstone County deputies interviewed him as his home East 12th Street in Laurel.

Hernandez said he had gotten a ride from Bray and last saw her leaving his home. He had numerous scratches on his face, which investigators believed were wounds from someone defending themselves. Hernandez said he had gotten them while fighting with a friend a recent night at Planet Lockwood. The friend later told police the two had fought the night of Sept. 29 at the club but doubted he left scratches on Hernandez's face.

Hernandez was also spotted in surveillance video from another bar, The Locomotive, with no scratches on his face before he went to Cedar Ridge.

He also told deputies that he had washed all his clothes, including his shoes, after returning home from the casino. He denied hurting Bray.

After an autopsy was completed, detectives returned to Hernandez's home on Oct. 4 for a second interview. He maintained his innocence but agreed to provide a DNA swab. Three days later, he called deputies back and changed his story, saying he and Bray had sex for about 15 to 20 minutes at his home before she left.

Hernandez was arrested Tuesday night at his home and is in Yellowstone County jail.