“When’s Daddy coming back?” is a phrase used often in the Reyes home.
Armando Reyes was killed Feb. 28, 2022, when the person who stole his iPhone 11, Michael Anthony Trujillo, stabbed him at the Oceanside Motel, in Hoquiam. Reyes, 25 at the time of his death, was working at the motel that day. When Reyes saw his phone was stolen, he wanted it back and confronted Trujillo.
According to Hoquiam Police officers who worked the case, Trujillo felt “disrespected” that Reyes wanted his phone back and that Reyes confronted him about the theft.
Almost two years later, the Reyes family is still at a loss. They don’t know how to answer Reyes’ oldest daughter, four-year-old Nevaeh, who asks when her dad is coming back.
“It’s just not fair,” said Terry Lindstrom, who’s Armando’s uncle. “It’s not fair that (Armando’s) been taken away from his family, from his two little girls who miss him daily. They’re always talking about Daddy, especially the oldest one. She wishes Daddy was here. You can’t tell her that right now, that’s what happened to Daddy, that’s why he’s gone.”
While everyone in the Reyes family misses Armando, his fiancee Lexi, his sister Silvia, his grandmother Florence, his niece who Armando was “really close to,” and the nephew Armando “didn’t get to meet,” they’re finding out as time goes on that living without him won’t get easier.
“It just gets harder and harder,” Lindstrom said.
But now, as has been the case ever since Trujillo killed Armando, the family wants justice. The issue is Trujillo was deemed “incompetent to stand trial,” at his competency hearing on Monday. His case was dismissed without prejudice, meaning it could be refiled in the future. But there wasn’t much hope of a refiling when Reyes’ family talked Tuesday about wanting justice.
“I think it’s b———-,” Silvia said. “He shouldn’t be getting away for free like that. I think he should be in prison honestly. He was already a threat to the community.”
Reyes wasn’t the first person Trujillo killed, according to Hoquiam Police Lt. Jeff Salstrom.
“This is the second life he’s taken by stabbing somebody to death,” Salstrom said. “The first one he only did five years in prison for.”
The first killing did not take place in Grays Harbor County, according to local authorities.
And then for killing Reyes in 2022, Trujillo was facing a charge of murder in the second degree. Murder in the second degree is a Class A felony, which carries with it a prison sentence up to life in prison, a $50,000 fine, or both. But instead, Trujillo has been deemed “incompetent to stand trial.”
Hoquiam Police Chief Joe Strong said this case for Trujillo is “an interesting case.”
“A lot of questions,” Strong said. “Right now, we’re in a holding pattern for the Attorney General’s office to determine whether or not they are going to flip Mr. Trujillo to a civil custody, which in our opinion, should be the case.”
What it means for Trujillo
“Right now, he’s been deemed incompetent to stand trial, therefore he is subject to release from Western State Hospital (WSH) barring intervention by the Attorney General’s Office,” Strong said. “They need to make a determination whether he’s a danger to himself or the community. And if (it) is deemed he is a danger, they will flip him to a civil commitment bed.”
Strong found out on Tuesday that such a decision would not be made known until Feb. 20.
Strong described the hospital as a secure facility where Trujillo would be unable to leave, in order to treat his mental health issues.
Once Judge David Mistachkin made the ruling on Trujillo, Mistachkin said of the ruling “It doesn’t look good.”
Strong detailed what he thought Mistachkin’s quote meant.
“It doesn’t look good from a state perspective that there is a potential to release extremely violent individuals who engage in constant violent, criminal conduct,” Strong said.
After Salstrom added how this was the “second life” Trujillo has taken by “stabbing somebody to death,” Strong added the following.
“We have to ask ourselves the question, ‘If he is released, who’s next?’” Strong said.
Hope for justice in the future
According to Steve Jackson, senior deputy prosecutor for Grays Harbor County, Trujillo’s case was “dismissed without prejudice.” Jackson explained what that meant exactly.
“It could be refiled by the state again,” Jackson said. “There is no statute of limitations restriction for Class A felonies, murder being one of them. So there are no time restrictions as to our ability to proceed in the future.”
As far as Trujillo’s mental state, which led to the decision, Jackson explained that as well.
“A criminal defendant cannot face trial when they have been determined to be incompetent to proceed,” Jackson said. “The dismissal is what is referred to as a felony civil conversion. The defendant has been at the WSH for the last year. The court, after an evaluation by a psychiatrist at the WSH, deemed that he was not competent to proceed to trial because he did not understand the nature of the proceedings, nor was able to assist his attorney in his defense based on a mental health disorder.”
Jackson said how Trujillo has had “three other evaluations throughout the year.”
“All indicated that he still did not understand the nature of the proceedings, nor was able to assist his attorney in his defense based on a mental health disorder,” Jackson said. “(Revised Code of Washington) 1077 allows for a statutory maximum of one year of restoration services be provided at the state hospital. The defendant received that. There is not the ability to receive another term of additional restoration services. If the defendant improves his mental health condition and becomes competent in the future then the state could refile the case and proceed.”
What could happen next
“The Attorney General’s Office files a petition to civilly commit the defendant,” Jackson said. “This is called a civil conversion. It is based on a different standard than what is used in criminal proceedings. In theory, he could remain at the WSH for the balance of his life. Because there is no guarantee that may occur, there are some provisions, which provide notice to the prosecutor, the chief of police and the decedent (victim’s) family if the defendant is to be released. If he is released then these parties will be provided notice as to that release a minimum of 30 days out. The release will presumably occur because the defendant’s mental health condition has improved. At that point, the prosecutor may in fact choose to refile the case.”
The current court ruling
Strong seemed to feel for the tough spot Mistachkin was in as far as ruling Trujillo “incompetent to stand trial.”
“I was attending court via zoom, as I think many, many people were,” Strong said. “And his hand was forced and it appeared he did not like his hand being forced. He understands the gravity of this incident.”
Strong let his feelings known about the situation regarding Trujillo.
“I am frustrated with our state’s lack of organization and lack of infrastructure with our mental health system,” Strong said. “There is an inherent lack of a system in place and this is certainly identified as a gap. It is our hope that the state Attorney General’s Office, while in collaboration with Western State Hospital doctors, that they do the right thing here.”
Jackson weighed in on the ruling as well.
“There is no discretion for the state or the judge in this type of situation,” Jackson said. “The defendant cannot proceed to trial because he is legally incompetent and there remains no further term of possible restoration efforts statutorily. This unfortunate situation is not the fault of the court or the state.”
What about Reyes’ family?
“The ruling was just not fair in our opinion,” Lindstrom said. “We don’t think it’s right. We think they should have done more to try to restore him back to competency, but they can’t.”
The family’s also not convinced Trujillo isn’t fit to stand trial. Unfortunately for them, they just have to wait and see what happens.
As far as Hoquiam Police Department goes, however, the family spoke highly of how the officers handled breaking the news of the ruling to the family.
“The police department came out to my sister’s yesterday and to Lexi’s to tell them they’re sorry about the outcome of the court case,” said Lindstrom, who also added Strong came out to the family himself.
“(HPD) has been great through the whole process,” Lindstrom said. “Once it happened, they were really consoling and really (good) to the family. And then for them to come out yesterday personally to my sister’s house and to Lexi’s … they’ve been great, but of course they can only do so much too. It falls back onto the state to do all the charging unfortunately. They’re the ones who we feel failed us. They failed Armando and his kids. We want justice for his kids mainly, his little girls.”
Further comments from Chief Strong
Strong shared his experience of talking to the family, as well as what a ruling like this means for the city.
“They were very discouraged of the court proceedings yesterday,” Strong said about the family. “They are still holding out hope that our state does the right thing. They do not want another family to go through what they’ve been through and what they continue to go through over the last two years.”
Strong called the dynamic of the whole situation “awful.”
“We have a wife who lost her husband, two young children who have to grow up without a dad,” Strong said. “We have a mom who lost one of her sons very prematurely. We have a community in Hoquiam that expects people to be held accountable.”
While this situation affects the Reyes family the most, they’re not the only ones it hurts.
“It affects our entire community,” Strong said. “It affects our officers that responded to the scene and tried to do everything to save Mr. Reyes’ life. To the officers who processed that scene, who conducted all of the interviews with the family, the grieving family, and then it affects the neighborhood. It affects the prosecutors, everybody involved.”
A new wrinkle
Strong had potentially breaking news for the Reyes family that he sent to them Thursday afternoon.
The state Attorney General’s Office has petitioned Trujillo to be civilly committed with a first hearing date of Feb. 23 at Western State Hospital.