Diego T. Hernandez

Diego T. Hernandez

LAUREL, Mont. - Nearly a year and a half after 57-year-old Lori Bray's death, the man charged with her murder -- 24-year-old Diego Hernandez -- is set to go on trial for deliberate homicide in Yellowstone County next week.

Bray worked at the Cedar Ridge Casino in Laurel. According to charging documents, she was last seen leaving the casino just after midnight on Oct. 1, 2019. She was scheduled to work a shift later that day, but she never showed up.

The Yellowstone County Sheriff's Office found Bray's car abandoned at the intersection of Laurel Airport Road and Buffalo Trail on the afternoon of the day she was reported missing.

The next day, Oct. 2, 2019, a community-organized search party began looking for Bray.

That same evening, a man found Bray's body while riding his ATV in the wooded area near the intersection of Yard Office Road and Ridge Drive.

Court documents say she had no clothing on her body when she was found. Bray's body had scratches and other injuries, indicating her body had rolled down a small nearby hill. The Montana State Medical Examiners Office ruled strangulation as the cause of death.

Investigators later searched Bray's car, where they found several articles of clothing, some stained with blood. Investigators found evidence of Bray's undergarments being forcefully removed.

Investigators learned Diego Hernandez arrived at the casino around 11 p.m. the night of Bray's disappearance.

At 12:30 a.m., security footage shows Bray getting in her car and opening the passenger door for a man who entered the vehicle. Casino patrons identified the man as Hernandez.

Sheriff's deputies went to question Hernandez the night of Oct. 1, 2019, and noticed scratches on his face. Investigators were later able to confirm he did not have those injuries before going to the Cedar Ridge Casino.

Hernandez told investigators at the time he did leave the casino with Bray, and that she was going to drive him home.

On Oct. 4, 2019, detectives executed a search warrant at Hernandez's residence. Investigators collected the clothes Hernandez was wearing that night, and were later able to match his shoes to a footprint at the scene where Bray's body was discovered.

On Oct. 7, 2019, Hernandez told investigators there was a sexual encounter at his residence before Bray left.

Hernandez was arrested on Oct. 8, 2019, and pleaded not guilty to deliberate homicide charges on Oct. 10, 2019.

A few days later, the Laurel community held a vigil at Riverside Park to celebrate Bray's life.

Diego Hernandez's trial for deliberate homicide is set to begin Monday, March 15, 2021.

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