Police in Washington have arrested four people and are seeking a fifth suspect after the beaten corpse of a 51-year-old man was found outside an empty home for sale in what may be a vigilante killing.
Dean Barker was found viciously beaten, strangled and robbed outside of a new Graham, Wash., home on September 8. His hands had been tied behind his back, his mouth had been taped shut and a red bandanna was tied around his neck, ABC News affiliate KOMO reported. Barker had been beaten and strangled to death, an autopsy report revealed.
Angela King, 24, William Barry, 33, Justin Mahaffey, 23, and Aileenah Horton, 17, have been arrested, but have yet to be charged in the murder. Jeffrey W. Powell, II, 30, is still being sought by police. He was been charged with first-degree murder, robbery and kidnapping, and a warrant has been issued for his arrest.
King, Barry and Mahaffey made a preliminary appearance in Superior Court on Monday, while Horton appeared on Friday. All were held on $2 million bail.
According to a statement of probable case, some of the suspects being held said that they kidnapped and beat Barker because they believed that he had molested a toddler. King and Horton also said that they were sexually assaulted by Barker, as was Barry's 3-year-old daughter.
Pierce County Prosecutor Mark Lindquist said that he is skeptical about their story and that investigators have yet to uncover evidence showing that Barker had committed these crimes. He told ABC News that he is unclear if the motivation was robbery, or what he called "the Texas defense" -- that they felt Barker "needed killing."
"At this point we don't know if this is a case of vigilante revenge, or if the allegations about the sexual assault are just cover story," he said. "Why wait until weeks after the alleged sexual assault? Why take the victim's watch? Why steal the victim's money?"
Lindquist said that all of the defendants knew Barker socially. He described Barker as a petty criminal, who'd had felony and misdemeanor charges brought against him in the past, as well as a history of mental health issues.
"This was a group of people that were all acquaintances," he told ABC News. "They all hung together, at least going back a few years."
The red bandanna around Barker's neck was reportedly to "mark him, as Mahaffey belongs to a blood gang," the statement said. Lindquist said that is still unclear how much money they took off of Barker.
Horton's grandfather Tom Birch came to her defense following her arrest. He said that she is a runaway from foster care, and he believes she was taken advantage of by the other suspects. Horton said she participated in the beating, but did not accompany the others to the home where the victim was abandoned.
"Did she have anything to do with the murder? No," he said. "Is she involved in some way, I doubt it. But here she is."
Horton said that she did not go with the other suspects to the house where the body was found. King told investigators that she went to the house in Graham, but remained in the car while Mahaffey and Powell walked Barker out of the vehicle.
Charges are expected to be filed against the four suspects when they are arraigned today at the Pierce County jail.