Tim Castilleja was scared to admit in court what he'd told federal agents: that on May 3, 2019, he'd seen a man brandishing a rifle and a woman frantically cleaning out a vehicle at his tavern in Brownstown, Wash., on the Yakama Indian Reservation. Federal agents—making the case that the man with the gun had just shot and killed a 25-year-old woman—ultimately arrested Castilleja to force him to testify in the murder trial. He did so June 9, telling jurors about his fear of retribution, per the Yakima Herald-Republic. The next day, Jordan Stevens, a member of the Yakama tribe who's to face sentencing in September, was convicted of first-degree murder in the death of Alillia "Lala" Minthorn. Then, in the early hours of Saturday, Brownstown Tavern burned to the ground. Castilleja, who lived inside, hasn't been seen since, per the Washington Post.
The apparent motive for Minthorn's murder makes clear why Castilleja was hesitant to speak. Prosecutors said Stevens had shot Minthorn dead because he believed she'd spoken to authorities about an incident in which he and an accomplice, Jasmine McCormack, had allegedly assaulted a driver while trying to steal a car. Castilleja said he'd seen a visibly upset McCormack cleaning out an SUV at his tavern and Stevens carrying a rifle outside, per the Herald-Republic. McCormack ultimately led authorities to Minthorn's body. She and another woman said they'd seen Stevens shoot the woman before hiding her body in a remote spot. They said the group visited the tavern before returning to strip Minthorn's body of clothing, as Stevens feared it would contain his blood. The FBI is to join in investigating the fire and Castilleja's disappearance this week, per the Herald-Republic. (Read more murder stories.)