Crime

Attempted murder trial begins in Ferndale throat-slashing case

A jury trial began this week for a woman accused of helping her boyfriend carry out the kidnapping, throat-slashing and attempted murder of a Ferndale woman last year.

A 39-year-old mother of two woke up on a sunny spring morning May 2, 2014, with plans to mow the front lawn and clean the gutters of her two-story home near the dead-end of Patriot Place, in a subdivision southeast of Ferndale. Her girlfriend of a few months had left for work around 5 a.m. So, like usual, she stayed home to take care of the children, ages 1 and 5.

A bit before 10 o’clock, she heard her doorbell ring. Through the frosted window of the glass front door, she could see a large man in black: a black hoodie, black gloves, black shoes, and black pants. The man — later identified as Chad C. Horne, 34, a boa constrictor breeder from Arizona — pointed a silver .45-caliber gun at the woman and pushed his way inside.

County Prosecutor Dave McEachran outlined the story in an hour-long opening statement Thursday morning, Jan. 29, at the trial of Horne’s girlfriend, Lesley Alexandra Villatoro, 29. She’s accused of driving her boyfriend to the scene and, under Horne’s direction, shopping for bleach and gasoline to help cover up the crime.

Key details about the case were made public as the trial opened this week.

On that morning Horne told the victim, as she held her toddler in her arms, that he just wanted to steal the car in the driveway, a black ’08 Chevy Tahoe with a crease in the tailgate. Horne took the baby from her arms and set the girl in a high-chair. He told the other child to go watch TV. He told the woman to go outside to start up the car.

Once she came back inside, Horne told her to get on the ground. She knelt by a pool table in the living room. Horne tied her hands with zip ties. He brought out a 7-inch blade and slashed her throat from side to side, cutting her trachea and exposing her vocal cords. He fired one deafening shot from the silver .45, but missed. The bullet lodged in the wall.

Horne ran out the door and drove away in the stolen Chevy. The woman, fearing she would bleed to death, ran outside. She could not speak to the neighbor at a house around the corner who called 911 at 10:04 a.m. Paramedics put a tube into her throat, slowed the bleeding, and took her to the hospital. She survived the attack.

One minute later dispatchers took another call that would turn out to be bogus: a shooting at Ferndale High School. It was a ruse to distract authorities, McEachran said. Six minutes later, another false call: a shooting at Home Depot in Bellingham, where Horne worked.

Officers from all around Whatcom County raced to those emergencies. Meanwhile, at an alley near a burger joint in Ferndale, Blaine Police Chief Mike Haslip spotted a black Tahoe with a crease in the tailgate. A chase wound through Labounty Road, back toward the subdivision. Haslip crashed the right front of his car into the back left panel of the Chevy — a PIT maneuver, in police jargon — stopping the SUV on Smith Road. Horne did not get out. Police threw a fire extinguisher through the window to reach him. By then, Horne had shot himself in the head. He was pronounced dead at St. Joseph hospital, a day after his 34th birthday.

Villatoro, meanwhile, had driven back to Horne’s sister’s house in Birch Bay, where Horne and Villatoro lived in the garage. Her attorney, Thomas Fryer, read aloud texts she’d sent to Horne’s sister. She’d dropped Horne to visit a friend, but he hadn’t come home. Villatoro had plans to go to dinner at Olive Garden to celebrate Horne’s birthday. They wondered if he’d gotten high or drunk and forgotten, or if he was just waiting to sober up.

Data culled from her electronics showed Villatoro read an online Bellingham Herald story about a shooting on Smith Road, and checked back on the story at least five times throughout the day. Fryer countered, in his opening statement, that she was just killing time while she waited for Horne. She’d also checked Craigslist, browsed through the Toys R Us website for baby things, and read several other Herald stories and blogs. Villatoro was unaware she’d read about her boyfriend, Fryer said, until detectives mentioned the article in a taped interview.

McEachran argued Villatoro was well aware of Horne’s plan.

She’s charged with complicity to six felonies: attempted murder in the first degree, burglary in the first degree, three counts of kidnapping in the first degree, and theft of a motor vehicle.

On Thursday morning McEachran dropped strong hints to the jury of a motive: The victim’s new girlfriend still had a husband, and he was jealous.

“This was a very targeted killing, and it was absolutely a targeted hit,” he said.

But the prosecutor stopped short of saying who he believed ordered the hit. The husband hasn’t been arrested or charged with a crime. During an afternoon recess, McEachran declined to explain why to a reporter. This trial was about Villatoro, he said.

“This case,” he said, “is this case.”

The trial resumes Monday morning in Whatcom County Superior Court in Judge Charles Snyder’s courtroom.

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