Alaynna Gray pleaded no contest to felony negligent homicide Thursday in District Court. She averted a jury trial set to begin Monday.
Eighth Judicial District Judge John Parker, who appeared via video, will sentence Gray sometime in the next seven to eight weeks. He did not set an exact date.
Gray signed a plea agreement Thursday that stipulates that in return for her plea, the state will recommend she serve two years with the Department of Corrections and an additional 10 years of probation.
Assistant Attorney General Chris McConnell was the lead and Hill County Attorney Karen Alley handled the case.
The judge is not bound by the state’s recommendations.
Gray, fitted with a SCRAM alcohol monitoring bracelet, is out on her own recognizance and will continue to be so.
With her attorney Randy Randolph next to her, Gray admitted in open court that the Nov. 8, 2018, events that led to Kyla Valdez’s death, as documented in court charging documents, are true and that enough evidence exists to prove she caused the victim’s death.
According to court documents, Gray called the Hill County Sheriff”s Office at 8:09 a.m. that morning to report she was looking for a woman who was walking around.
A deputy met Gray, who was in a running pickup, on a rural road 15 miles south of Havre.
Gray told law enforcement that she and Valdez had been drinking and driving on Bullhook Road. Valdez reportedly ran into a ditch, so she took over driving. Valdez got mad and hit Gray in the nose, causing her to bleed, Gray said. However, the deputy did not see any blood on Gray’s light-colored jacket. She said she wiped the blood off her face.
But the deputy saw some blood between the fingers on Gray’s right hand.
Gray said she punched Valdez and they began to strangle each other. She then kicked Valdez out of the pickup.
Gray told the deputy she didn’t know where Valdez was, which is why she was looking for her.
The National Weather Service said the low temperature for that day was minus-7 degrees, with 25-to-30-mph winds.
Gray had bloodshot eyes and was slurring her words and appeared drunk, the deputy noted. The deputy placed Gray in the back of his patrol vehicle and began looking for Valdez. During the search, the deputy found a cell phone, battery and tennis shoes in the road, but no Valdez.
He went back to Gray’s pickup and noticed blood on the door and the door jam, a tennis shoe in the passenger area, and two coats in the back seat.
Another deputy who responded eventually found Valdez in a ditch about a mile north of the first responding deputy.
The deputy reported that Valdez wore gym shorts, a light jacket and no shoes. Her eyes were open and she had a light pulse. Her eyes moved and she made a groaning sound when she was shaken.
By the time Valdez was transported to Northern Montana Hospital, she had stopped breathing. Hospital personnel performed chest compressions. Emergency room staff resuscitated Valdez, then she was flown to Benefis Medical in Great Falls, where she died Nov. 9 at 12:30 a.m., more than 12 hours after Gray called police.
During the investigation, deputies learned that a Valdez family member kicked Gray, Valdez and others out of the house at about 3:30 a.m. on Nov. 8. The family member told police Gray came back to her apartment at about 6 a.m. asking for help finding Valdez.
Gray told deputies that the family member could not help, so she drove back out to look for her.
Gray didn’t call police until 8:09 a.m., indicating Valdez was out in the cold for more than two hours.
During that time frame, Gray sent text messages to her partner at 7:43 a.m.
“This chick is no where to be found u don’t know how serious this (is),” she texted. “It’s freezing cold. I’m sitting here praying she isn’t dead.”
Write to Paul Dragu at [email protected]