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Murder charges filed in case surrounding death of Milton-Freewater man

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The death of Marcos Gutierrez-Rodriguez has shaken many in the small farming community of Milton-Freewater.  Gutierrez’s family reported that he went missing sometime during the night of May 20th.  Officials found Gutierrez’s body badly burned beneath a bridge on Eastside Road on May 22nd.  Yesterday, they charged a suspect in what they are now calling Gutierrez’s murder.

Conor Michael Dayton
Mugshot of Conor Michael Dayton. Photo courtesy of the Umatilla County Jail.

We reported last month that a suspect, 24-year-old Conor Michael Dayton of Milton-Freewater, had been arrested in the burning of Gutierrez’s body.  Sources close to Gutierrez and Dayton say the two were in a relationship and hung out together frequently. Police officials say, in court documents, that Dayton admitted to burning Gutierrez’s body.  They say Dayton admits to doing this in an effort to hide the fact that he says Gutierrez overdosed on methamphetamines.  An autopsy of Gutierrez’s body found “extremely high levels of methamphetamines,” according to police statements in court documents.

Our investigative team learned that police intended to charge Dayton with the murder of Gutierrez.  As we reported yesterday via Facebook, officials have now charged Dayton and have referred prosecution to the Umatilla County District Attorney. In a statement from the Umatilla County Sheriff’s Office:

The Umatilla County Sheriff’s Office, in cooperation with the Umatilla County District Attorney’s Office has charged Conor Michael Dayton, age 24, of Milton Freewater in the death of Marcos Jesus Gutierrez Rodriguez.

Detectives from UCSO and other law enforcement agencies, including the Oregon State Police have continued to investigate this case since Mr. Gutierrez-Rodriguez’s badly burned body was discovered after a fire under the Eastside Road Bridge near Milton Freewater on the morning of May 22, 2017. The detectives have worked diligently in following investigative leads, interviewing numerous witnesses and persons of interest, and locating and examining evidence. This work has provided the information and evidence to charge Conor Dayton with Murder.

On July 8, 2017, Mr. Dayton admitted that he started the fire that burned Mr. Gutierrez-Rodriguez. Dayton claimed that he found Mr. Gutierrez-Rodriguez’s deceased body at the location and started the fire to hide his drug use. Since then, we have learned, and are alleging that Mr. Dayton is responsible for killing Mr. Gutierrez-Rodriguez and then burning his body in an attempt to hide evidence.

The Sheriff’s Office has been working with the District Attorney’s Office, who will be presenting the case to a grand jury in the near future. We also received assistance and support from the Oregon State Police, Oregon State Medical Examiner’s Office, and the Hermiston Police Department. We are referring all other inquiries about the case to the DA’s Office.

We asked Sheriff officials if these charges indicate a closure in their investigation.  “Generally speaking, in serious cases like this, an investigation is ongoing until adjudicated,” Undersheriff Jim Littlefield told our team.  This could indicate that officials may have additional persons of interest in the case.

This is an ongoing news story and we will closely monitor all future developments and bring them to you as we have them available.