For more than a year, Eson Herr was on the lookout for a man who had shot at him and struck the windshield of his car, according to King County prosecutors.
Last Friday, he apparently believed he’d located the unknown gunman in the parking lot of a SeaTac park, prosecutors said. But instead of exacting revenge, Herr is accused of gunning down a man authorities believe was an innocent stranger.
Herr, 26, was arrested Monday in Auburn and has since been charged with first-degree murder in connection with the July 5 shooting death of Zula Mehari Werede, a 29-year-old gas station clerk who had gone to the Valley Ridge Park to play soccer with friends, charging papers say. Herr, a felon who isn’t legally allowed to own guns, was also charged with first-degree unlawful possession of a firearm.
His girlfriend, Leticia Fortune, 29, was arrested with Herr in a traffic stop. She has been charged with first-degree felony rendering criminal assistance for allegedly helping Herr conceal evidence of the homicide. The pair are accused of attempting to hide Herr’s distinctive Dodge Charger and get rid of the arsenal prosecutors say he had amassed in the Federal Way bungalow where they lived.
Herr remains jailed in lieu of $2 million bail; Fortune’s bail was set at $500,000, jail records show.
“Here, in what appears to be a tragic case of mistaken identity, the defendant shot and killed an innocent stranger in the parking lot of an athletic field,” Senior Deputy Prosecutor Jennifer Petersen wrote in charging papers. “With children playing in a nearby playground, and adults playing soccer at the nearby fields, and in broad daylight in front of eyewitnesses, the defendant pulled up next to the victim and fired several shots from a handgun, striking the victim several times.”
According to the charges:
Werede and a friend arrived at the park a little after 5 p.m. and changed into soccer cleats. As they walked to the playing field, Werede said he forgot something and doubled back to his car. Werede was standing next to his vehicle when his friend heard a man say, “What’s up (racial slur),” followed by the sound of gunfire. The friend turned and saw the man behind the wheel of a black mid-size car fire several times at Werede.
The friend later told detectives Werede worked more than full-time at two gas stations, didn’t use drugs and wasn’t involved in criminal activity, the charges say. He had no idea why the man would have shot Werede.
Four .40-caliber shell casings were found next to Werede’s body.
Descriptions from two other witnesses, as well as video surveillance evidence, led detectives to search for a black Dodge Charger with distinctive chrome accents. A crime bulletin featuring the Charger was sent to area law enforcement agencies.
The following evening, a police officer in Federal Way was on patrol and drove by a “neighborhood problem house,” which the charges say has been associated with drug use and criminal activity, in the 30000 block of 9th Avenue South.
The officer saw people removing a cloth cover from a Dodge Charger parked in front of the house and noted the vehicle strongly resembled the car featured in the sheriff’s crime bulletin. A short time later, officers stopped the vehicle and interviewed the female driver, who said Herr and Fortune had asked her to swap cars with them for the night and directed her to leave the Charger at an apartment complex and cover it with the cloth car cover once she’d parked.
Detectives were preparing to serve a search warrant on the house when they saw people loading bags into the back of a white Kia. When police followed the car and pulled it over, the driver and passenger told officers they had been on the phone with Fortune, who was relaying instructions from Herr, and were directed to pick up the bags — many containing firearms — and then drive to Kent, the charges say.
One of the men in the Kia told detectives about Herr being shot at a year prior and that Herr had been looking for the gunman ever since, according to the charges. After seeing a photo of Werede, the man said he wasn’t the same person who fired at Herr, but he looked very similar to the man who had.
Herr and Fortune were arrested Monday after leaving a house in Auburn, where detectives had found a vehicle associated with Herr.
Detectives ultimately recovered ammunition, an assault-style rifle and six handguns — including a .40 caliber pistol — from the house and two vehicles, the charges say.