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Testimony begins in Indio hotel murder case

A Colorado man shot and killed a woman during a drug-fueled night inside an Indio hotel room because he felt she was disrespecting him, a prosecutor alleged today, but the defendant’s attorney said his client fired in self-defense after she threatened his life.

Aaron Drayer, 22, of Denver, is charged with second-degree murder and a sentence-enhancing firearm-use allegation in the Jan. 15, 2017, shooting death of 32-year-old Liliana Yanez at the Royal Plaza Inn at 82347 Highway 111.

Deputy District Attorney Manny Bustamante told jurors in his opening statement that Drayer, Yanez and several others were using drugs inside a room at the Royal Plaza Inn when Drayer became agitated with Yanez, who was speaking loudly on her cellphone and refused to hang up.

Drayer and a friend of his had been invited to the hotel room by acquaintances of Yanez and spent the night using drugs with four or five others at the hotel, the prosecutor said. Drayer and his friend left at about 2 a.m., but the defendant went back to retrieve a “book safe” that he’d left in the room, a hollowed-out dictionary in which he allegedly transported drugs.

Bustamante said that upon finding the book safe, Drayer believed that someone had tampered with it and tried to steal from him. He then “held everyone in the room at gunpoint” to find out who tampered with the safe, but

Yanez “didn’t take him seriously,” remained on her phone and was unperturbed by Drayer brandishing a gun, the prosecutor said.

“Liliana Yanez simply did not show him the respect he felt he deserved,” said Bustamante, who alleged that Yanez had been making Drayer paranoid and suspicious throughout the night when she wouldn’t get off her phone.

Drayer then allegedly trained his gun on her, to which her last words were “What are you going to” prior to being shot once in the chest. She died at the scene.

Drayer’s attorney, James Silva, alleged that Yanez was calling people to come to the hotel and possibly kill Drayer and his friend. Silva said Yanez was being “belligerent” and that contrary to the prosecution’s claims, she was the one accusing Drayer of disrespect, not the other way around.

Silva said Drayer brought a gun because he didn’t feel comfortable with some of the people there, but the weapon was strictly for protection.

“He had no motive at that time to kill anybody. He was there to have fun,” Silva said.

The attorney said that after hearing Yanez threatening to have people kill him, Drayer brandished the gun. As one of Yanez’s cohorts snuck up behind him, Yanez lunged across a bed at him, causing him to shoot her, Silva said.

Drayer left in an SUV with Colorado plates, which belonged to a family friend. San Bernardino County sheriff’s deputies caught up with the SUV owner, who said she lent Drayer the vehicle several days before and that he had the SUV on the night of Jan. 14.

Drayer was found later that day hiding inside a bathroom in the woman’s Joshua Tree home and was arrested after allegedly trying to flee through a window.

The locked “book safe” was found by officers inside the hotel room, Bustamante said. Substances consistent with methamphetamine and cocaine were found inside the book safe, along with boxes of ammunition. More ammunition and drugs were allegedly found inside the SUV.

Drayer is being held in lieu of $2 million bail.

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