BILLINGS — Authorities have determined that Lori Bray of Laurel died of strangulation sometime after she was seen giving her alleged killer, Diego Hernandez, a ride home after her shift at a casino.
Yellowstone County prosecutors stated in charging documents released Thursday that Bray, 57, gave Hernandez, 22, a ride home in the early morning hours of October 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.
Bray's nude and beaten body was discovered in the evening of October 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 Yellowstone County Chief Deputy Attorney Ed 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 October 1. That night, a regular casino customer identified Hernandez, and Yellowstone County deputies interviewed him as his home East 12th Street in Laurel.
Hernandez said he got a ride from Bray and last saw her leaving his home. He had numerous scratches on his face, which investigators believe were wounds from someone defending themselves. Hernandez said he had gotten them while fighting with a friend recently night at Planet Lockwood. The friend later told police the two had fought the night of September 29 at the club but doubted he left scratches on Hernandez's face.
Hernandez was also seen 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 October 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.
A GoFundMe account has been created to help the Bray family with funeral costs; the page reads, in part: "She never deserved anything like this and so many of us are so sad that someone chose to take her from us in such a gross manner. She was one of the most kind people I ever met, loving, humble, generous, honest and such a faithful woman. "
We will update you as we get more information.
(OCTOBER 2, 2019) The Yellowstone County Sheriff's Office is investigating the circumstances of a missing Laurel woman. Lt. Dan Paris on Wednesday confirmed an "active investigation" is underway involving the disappearance of Lori Bray, but he declined to release any further information.
A friend of the missing woman, Shannon Strong Martin, said Bray was last seen on video surveillance leaving her workplace at Cedar Ridge Casino in Laurel at 12:25 a.m. on Tuesday. Her car was later found abandoned on Laurel Airport Road.
Martin said friends will be gathering at the nearby Laurel Cemetery on Wednesday morning to form search parties.
Martin said in a Facebook post : "Her friends and family are worried — she would NEVER leave her dogs, they are her world. Someone has to know something, no lead is too small. And I ask that everyone please pray that she is found safe."
We will update you if we get more information.