Warm Springs woman killed in 2008
A woman who brutally murdered another young woman on the Warm Springs Reservation in 2008 will serve the next 30 years in federal prison, while her accomplice will serve 18 years.
That was the decision of U.S. District Court Judge Anna J. Brown, who sentenced Jolena Jean Warner, 30, and Antonio Brito, 25, both of Warm Springs, for stabbing and strangling Lucinda Stwyer, 24, and then burning her body. The two were sentenced on May 24.
Both Warner and Brito had pleaded guilty to second-degree murder on Nov. 30, 2010, more than two years after the murder, which took place in the early morning hours of Sept. 24, 2008, near Trout Lake, on the Warm Springs Reservation.
In his sentencing memorandum, assistant U.S. Attorney Scott Kerin, who prosecuted the case, indicated that Warner had borrowed a van and picked up Brito, and then Stwyer. As she was driving, Warner began violently stabbing the victim -- who was in the passenger seat -- in the back and neck.
The motive for the murder remains unclear, according to Kerin, but it may have been revenge, because Warner believed that Stwyer had caused her cousin's death in an earlier drug deal.
"Jolena Warner told a cell mate that somehow Lucinda Stwyer was responsible for his death, but there's no evidence that it's true," Kerin said on Monday.
Warner also told a cellmate that robbery was a motive, and both the sentencing memorandum and the earlier criminal complaint mentioned that she had taken property from the victim.
After stabbing Stwyer, Warner stopped the van on a remote road several miles west of U.S. Highway 26, where the victim was later found.
"Methamphetamine was involved in the case, and there was a report that Jolena Warner smoked methamphetamine on the night of the incident, and a report that she made the victim smoke with her," said Kerin.
Eventually, Warner unsuccessfully attempted to strangle Stwyer. "At that point, Antonio Brito took over and assisted in strangling Lucinda Stwyer to death," he noted in the sentencing report.
Afterward, the two poured gasoline on the victim, burned her body, and then left the scene. Warm Springs Fire Management spotted smoke from the fire around 12:41 p.m., and discovered the badly burned body later in the afternoon.
Warner returned to her residence in Warm Springs, and told her roommate what she had done. She turned herself in on Sept. 30, in Portland.
Brito, who fled to Mexico, was arrested on a warrant when he came back across the border, Kerin said.
Judge Brown sentenced Warner to 30 years in prison, without possibility of parole, followed by five years of supervised release, and Brito to 18 years in prison and five years of supervised release.
Brown said that Stwyer suffered an "extraordinarily brutal death" that involved multiple stab wounds and strangulation, after which, the defendants used gasoline to set the victim's body on fire.
"Both of the defendants were active methamphetamine users before, leading up to, and in the course of committing this extraordinarily brutal crime," the judge noted.
"Until we, as a community -- each of us -- steps up and takes responsibility to stop this behavior that does lead to the loss of human life, by homicide, by overdose, by simply taking away the potential of so many people; until we -- as a community, as a nation -- bring this to an end, this devastation will continue," the judge said at the time of sentencing.
"It was an extremely brutal murder," said Kerin. "I think it causes anyone pause when they read about it, hear about it or live through it."
At the time of sentencing, both defendants spoke to the victim's family and apologized, he said.
Warner is an enrolled member of the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs. Stwyer, the mother of three young children and also a tribal member, worked as a certified nursing assistant at High Lookee Lodge in Warm Springs.
The case was investigated by the Warm Springs Police Department, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives.