The case of a Hermiston man charged with murder will go to trial in October after hearings this week revealed new information in the case — but not enough for the judge to agree to his release.
Tyree Houfmuse, 35, will remain in the Umatilla County Jail on charges of murder, manslaughter and felon in possession of a firearm. He has been in jail since June 2017 for the murder of James Cragun last Memorial Day weekend. Houfmuse’s trial is set to begin October 29.
The past two Tuesdays, Judge Eva Temple heard arguments for Houfmuse’s release after his attorney, Kara Davis, argued he had acted in self-defense.
District Attorney Dan Primus tried to convince the judge that there is enough presumption that Houfmuse is guilty of murder that Temple should order him to stay in jail with no bail.
Temple did not grant either side’s request, and reduced Houfmuse’s bail from $1 million to $250,000. She stated that there was not enough evidence to rule out self-defense, and that she did not see a strong presumption of guilt, either.
“There is a lot of contradictory evidence in this case,” Temple said after hearing both arguments. She said that according to Cragun’s autopsy, he had several injuries that have not been discussed elsewhere in the case, such as lacerations above his eye and bruised knees.
She also noted that the primary contributor of DNA on the gun was Cragun’s. Houfmuse’s DNA has not been found on the weapon. Primus said the state cannot explain the lack of Houfmuse’s DNA on the gun.
Over the two days of hearings, Temple heard more than eight hours of video interviews with Houfmuse and several witnesses, including a woman both Houfmuse and Cragun had dated, and two women who were present when Cragun was shot.
Houfmuse and the witnesses described the night Cragun died. They said Cragun drove up to the apartment Houfmuse and the woman were going into. Cragun got out of the car, jumped over a hedge and started moving toward Houfmuse.
Cragun had been convicted of assaulting the woman two years prior, and she had a restraining order against him. The East Oregonian does not name victims of domestic violence. Detectives also found text messages on the woman’s phone, from Cragun, threatening Houfmuse’s life and hers.
“If that doesn’t frighten you and put you in fear of felonious assault, what does?” Davis asked.
Houfmuse said Cragun came running toward him and took a gun out of a bag. Houfmuse said he grabbed Cragun’s hands and twisted the gun, and the gun went off.
Primus said the autopsy shows the entry point of the bullet to be on Cragun’s upper left back area — which he said makes it impossible for the gun to have been twisted as Houfmuse claims.
But Davis argued that Houfmuse had ample reason to fear for his life.
“The state’s argument is that my client is paranoid at the threats Cragun was making,” she said. “That is textbook self-defense.”
Davis also said that the state had waited several months to request lab testing for physical evidence in the case, which she said led to a delay of six months. The trial was originally scheduled to start in April.
“He’s been in jail almost a year now,” she said. “We have a trial date in six months because the state didn’t do their job.”
Temple also heard an audio interview with Cameron Teem, a man who had shared a jail cell with Houfmuse at the Umatilla County Jail, and who gave an officer a detailed account of what Houfmuse told him had happened the night Cragun died.
In the interview, Teem offers several specific details that Houfmuse told him about the incident. He said that Houfmuse admitted to him that he did have the gun with him the night Cragun died, and was carrying it in his backpack. He states that when Cragun came rushing toward him, he swung the backpack around to his front and pulled the gun out of it.
Teem also stated that Houfmuse said he egged Cragun on in his threatening statements, and intended to set him up to come there that night.
Temple said at this point, she does not know that Houfmuse brought the gun with him, and that she was baffled by the lack of his DNA on the weapon. She stated that at this point, there was not enough evidence to indicate that the shooting was set up by Houfmuse.
She said she would continue to hold Houfmuse in jail before he goes to trial.
“Obviously there is a lot more evidence in this case than what’s been presented,” Temple said. “It appears this is not the case I thought it was.”