Caya Lenay, of Lynnwood, pleads guilty in the murder of Julie Knechtel, who was killed while trying to defend her son from teenage robbers in 2017, at the Snohomish County Courthouse on Friday in Everett. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)

Caya Lenay, of Lynnwood, pleads guilty in the murder of Julie Knechtel, who was killed while trying to defend her son from teenage robbers in 2017, at the Snohomish County Courthouse on Friday in Everett. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)

Third teen pleads guilty in murder of Everett woman

Julie Knechtel, 54, was killed while defending her son during a home-invasion robbery last December.

EVERETT — A 16-year-old boy pleaded guilty to murder in adult court Friday for a home-invasion robbery last year during which an Everett mother was shot to death.

Caya Lenay, of Lynnwood, is the third defendant to admit guilt in the death of Julie Knechtel, 54, who was killed while defending her son from teenage robbers Dec. 7, 2017.

At the time of the shooting, Lenay was 20 days shy of his 16th birthday. He faces a prison sentence ranging from 11 to 19½ years for second-degree murder.

Lenay pulled a hoodie tight around his face at 4 a.m. Dec. 7, when he and three teens in masks forced their way into a shed behind Knechtel’s home on East Gibson Road, where her son lived, according to charging papers. Her son, 17, had been selling drugs. He recognized Lenay because Lenay had robbed him before, police were told.

The robbers demanded the teen’s methamphetamine and marijuana. In the middle of a fight, Knechtel rushed in swinging a chair, according to Lenay and others in his group. Her son heard a pop. He ran over to try to help his mother, but saw she had been shot in the chest. The bullet pierced her lungs and heart. He heard another pop. He’d been shot in the back.

He survived. His mother did not.

Lenay didn’t fire a gun, but he knew two of his friends were armed when the crew broke in, according to his guilty plea Friday. Prosecutors saw Lenay as the teen who “initiated the plan” and told others Knechtel’s son had drugs to steal, court papers show.

The robbers fled in a Mercedes.

Hours later police tracked down Lenay at an Everett home. At first, he denied knowing about the crimes. But later he described the night in detail. Before the robbery, the group had smoked cannabis, ingested cough syrup and talked about people they had “beefs” with, court papers say.

Just before the murder, the teens opened fire in a drive-by shooting at the Hangar 128 apartments south of Everett, over a grudge with a young man who lived there, according to charging papers. No one was hit. One bullet narrowly missed the head of the young man’s sister, 15.

Then the teens drove three-quarters of a mile down the street to the Village Green Mobile Home Park, where Knechtel lived.

Lenay told police his friends Bryan Rodriguez-Hernandez and Larry Dorrough had guns drawn. A fourth intruder, Mondrell Robertson, kicked in the shed’s door.

Minutes later, as the group rode away from the scene, Rodriguez-Hernandez told the others he shot the mother, according to court records.

Dorrough said he shot the son, according to Lenay.

A fifth defendant, Gladyz Valencia-Anguiano, now 17, is charged with being the getaway driver. She’s awaiting trial. She reportedly told police she smoked a cigarette and locked the car doors while the boys went to the shed.

Her boyfriend, Rodriguez-Hernandez, now 17, pleaded guilty in August to first-degree murder. His sentencing is scheduled for Nov. 29. Attorneys are recommending 25 years behind bars.

Robertson, now 18, pleaded guilty in September. Prosecutors are expected to suggest a 10-year sentence at a hearing in December. According to Robertson, he thought the group went to the shed only to “settle a beef” and beat the teen.

“We were running out and (Dorrough) stopped and turns around and shot (Knechtel’s son),” he told police.

Dorrough, now 17, awaits trial. His next court date is in December. Dorrough and Lenay had been classmates at Alderwood Middle School the preceding school year.

All of the teens were charged in Snohomish County Superior Court almost a year ago, except for Lenay, the youngest of the five. Until this week, his case had remained in juvenile court.

“We certainly recognize the tragedy of the circumstances here,” defense attorney Gene Piculell said Friday.

The defense plans to argue for a sentence of 10¼ years, which is below the standard range in Washington. Sentencing has been scheduled for Jan. 15.

Caleb Hutton: 425-339-3454; chutton@heraldnet.com. Twitter: @snocaleb.

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