Crime

Prosecutor: Woman was accomplice in Ferndale throat-slashing

Testimony in an attempted murder trial in Whatcom County Superior Court has centered so far on the crime itself: a break-in at a Ferndale home, a woman’s throat slashed, two fake 911 calls, and a car chase that ended with the suspect’s death.

The role of the defendant Lesley Alexandra Villatoro, 29, on the other hand, has slowly come into focus.

Over the first five days of the trial, County Prosecutor Dave McEachran laid out evidence — such as the messages Villatoro sent and the bleach, a change of men’s clothes, a full gas can, and lighters in her Honda Civic — to suggest she had a hand in planning a calculated “hit” on a Ferndale mother of two.

Her attorney, Thomas Fryer, argued Villatoro didn’t know about the crime until hours after it happened.

On the morning of May 2, 2014, Villatoro dropped off her boyfriend, Chad C. Horne, in a neighborhood off West Smith Road. Jurors heard a recorded hour-long interview Villatoro had that evening with two detectives.

Horne had turned 34 years old that week. According to Villatoro, he wanted to celebrate with a friend named John, who used to work with him at Home Depot in Bellingham. Villatoro didn’t know John, she said. She drove Horne to a housing development southeast of Ferndale. Horne told her to pop open the trunk of her Honda Civic.

“And when you saw him leaving the car, what did he take with him?” a detective asks her on the recording.

“Um, himself?” Villatoro says.

“And what did he take from the trunk?”

“Um. I don’t know ... ” Villatoro starts to cry. “I don’t know, I feel stupid, but obviously, if I’d known ... ”

Later the detective, Melanie Campos, asks: “And what did you think when he asked you to pop the trunk?”

“Um, honestly, I thought he was going to go smoke pot with his friend,” Villatoro says.

Horne told her to wait for him, she said. She was babysitting that day, so she drove to a small park off West Smith Road to let the kids play. She couldn’t call or text Horne, she said, because their phones only worked with Wi-Fi. After a while she gave up, she told detectives, and drove back to Horne’s sister’s house in Birch Bay, where she and Horne lived in the garage.

Meanwhile, Horne rang the doorbell of a two-story home on Patriot Place about 10 a.m., according to the 39-year-old resident. Dressed in all black, he faced away from the woman as she answered the door. As Horne turned to look at her, she saw he held a silver revolver across his chest. She had never seen the man before. They struggled at the door, and he aimed the gun at her.

Once Horne forced his way in, he made the woman sit on the ground and told her he only wanted to steal her Chevy Tahoe. He ordered her to go start it up for him. Horne made her two young children go into another room. When the woman came back inside, she noticed a black duffel bag by the door.

In his opening statement, McEachran keyed in on one statement made by the man: “Yeah, I have some time.” As in “extra” time, McEachran suggested, a clue that Horne was working on a timeline with an accomplice.

Horne tied the woman’s hands with zip ties, then suddenly reached down and slit her throat. Horne fired one shot from the revolver, but missed, before he ran out the door.

The woman was able to run outside, where a neighbor called police at 10:04 a.m.

One minute later another 911 call came in. McEachran played the recording for the jury.

“Oh my God, I just saw a guy, he had a gun!” a frantic man shouts. “He was shooting people at the Ferndale High School! It looked like a long gun or a shotgun, and then three shots went off!”

Abruptly he hangs up. Horne’s ex-wife, Natalie, testified the man’s voice did not sound like Horne. Six minutes later, another call came in.

“Yes, there is a guy with a gun at the Home Depot in Bellingham, he’s robbing it right now,” says a man, calling from the same phone number, in a much calmer voice.

“Sir! You just called and said there was someone — ” the dispatcher interjects, before the recording cuts off. Both calls were hoaxes.

The second caller, Natalie Horne said, was Chad Horne.

The 39-year-old woman survived the attack. Later her surgeon, Dr. Andrew Verneuil, testified she lost several liters of blood, needed four transfusions, and could not speak for two weeks. (She testified in court for about an hour Monday.)

About a half-hour after the attack police spotted the victim’s stolen black Chevy Tahoe in a Ferndale alley. They chased the Tahoe south. A Whatcom County sheriff’s deputy tapped the front corner of his cruiser into the back corner of the Tahoe, making it spin out in the 1100 block of West Smith. Before police could reach Horne, he’d shot himself in the temple with a silver .45-caliber revolver.

In the Tahoe, police found a gallon of Walmart-brand bleach, a hockey mask, a blood-streaked hunting knife, and a duffel bag full of interlocked zip-ties.

A little more than a week beforehand, Villatoro bought a bottle of bleach and a five-gallon gas can at Walmart. On that afternoon, April 23, Horne messaged her about getting the “stuff,” according to data pulled from Villatoro’s electronics. She replied that she’d found a gas can for $17. McEachran suggested in his opening statement that Horne planned to set the Tahoe on fire, as yet another distraction for police. Bleach can wipe away DNA evidence.

Other phone records from the afternoon of the murder attempt show Villatoro read stories on The Bellingham Herald’s website about a shooting on Smith Road. That evening, moments after police asked her if she’d been reading the news, she broke down in tears. Fryer, her attorney, argued that was the moment she realized she’d been reading about Horne.

McEachran has hinted at a motive: jealousy over one of the victim’s relationships. However, nine months later, no one else has been arrested or charged with hiring a hit man.

Villatoro is accused of complicity to six felonies: attempted murder in the first degree, burglary in the first degree, robbery in the first degree and three counts of kidnapping.

Closing arguments are expected to be held as soon as Monday, Feb. 9.

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