The brutal attack on an elderly Umapine woman in January was a home robbery gone wrong, according to police search warrant affidavits, and DNA evidence and undercover help from one suspect led to three arrests.
Matthew Raymond Hermann, 20, of College Place, was the leader of the home invasion that nearly killed 79-year-old Joyce Key, the affidavits show. He is in the Umatilla County Jail, Pendleton, on charges of attempted aggravated murder (two counts), assault, kidnapping, robbery, burglary and theft.
Caleb Scott, 20, of Waitsburg, Wash., helped Hermann bind Key to a chair with duct tape. He also is in the jail on charges of robbery, kidnapping, burglary and conspiracy to commit each. His public defender, Thomas Gray of Pendleton, is working on a plea deal, he said in court last week.
The third suspect, Jacob Lee White, now 19, of Walla Walla, remains free. According to the affidavits, he drove the getaway car but never stepped foot in Key’s home. He also agreed to wear a hidden microphone and surveillance wristwatch so police could record a conversation with Scott concerning the attack.
Key’s son, Gary Key, found his mother the morning of Jan. 30 at her kitchen, “secured to a chair with duct tape, and her wrists and ankles were bound with duct tape as well,” the affidavits said. A large amount of blood was on the floor. The Umatilla County Sheriff’s Office, the lead agency in the case, would learn Key suffered multiple skull fractures, intracranial bleeding, a broken hip and multiple facial fractures.
Crime scene investigators seized multiple items at the home, including a cardboard roll that likely held the duct tape. Ryan Chambers, Oregon State Police forensic scientists, found DNA on the roll that matched Hermann’s. In his Feb. 18 report to the sheriff’s office, Chambers noted the chances the DNA profile belonged to someone else were “less than one in 10 billion.”
Hermann’s DNA was in police databases because he had five arrests from 2010 though early 2013, including for firearm theft and misdemeanor assault. Sheriff’s detectives tracked Hermann to Sapulpa, Okla., where he was in jail for a drug offense unrelated to the Key case. Sheriff’s detectives flew there and interviewed him Feb. 22.
“During the course of the interview, Hermann admitted to having been involved in the crimes associated with this case,” the affidavits state. He even said it was his idea to rob Key’s home because it was in an isolated place and she was a family friend, so he knew the place and knew she lived alone.
From Hermann the police went after White, and questioned him Feb. 26 at the Walla Walla County Sheriff’s Office. He said the robbery happened the night of Jan. 29, and he drove Scott and Hermann, but didn’t leave the white Geo coupe, according to the affidavits. He said he didn’t know about the violence until he saw newspaper reports a day or two later.
Detectives asked White if he would record an interview of Scott. White agreed to wear a body wire to record audio and a surveillance wrist watch for audio and video. During their conversation under police monitoring, Scott said he never harmed Key and didn’t see Hermann hurt her. But Key was in a chair, Scott said, wrapped in duct tape and had a towel over her head, and Hermann held a rolling pin.
“Scott said Hermann told him Key had seen his face, so he had to do something about it,” the affidavits state.
With that, police moved in and arrested Scott. He also talked to detectives and said Hermann wanted his help on a robbery of Key’s home. “Scott said Hermann said he had the whole thing planned out,” the affidavit said, “and he claimed no one would get hurt.”
He also told police he never saw Hermann attack Key, “he said he had a good idea of what had happened.”
Contact Phil Wright at firstname.lastname@example.org or 541-966-0833.
This story originally appeared in East Oregonian.