(Update: comments by victim's sister, jail photos, details from news conference)
Victim's sister: "Honestly, it was just sheer relief" after 14 months of waiting
BEND, Ore. (KTVZ) -- The family of Ray Atkinson Jr. and his fiancé, Natasha Newby, have been waiting for this day since the couple was killed 14 months ago at their Bend home.
Friday morning, the Bend Police Department, assisted by the CERT (Central Oregon Emergency Response Team) arrested two suspects in the August 15, 2020 killings -- Kenneth Atkinson, a 54-year-old Bend resident, and Kenneth's nephew, Nathan Shane Detroit, a 31-year-old Redmond resident.
Both men were charged with two first-degree counts of murder and conspiracy to commit murder. They were lodged in the Deschutes County Jail on no-bail warrants, pending their first court appearance next Monday afternoon.
The bodies of Atkinson Jr., 34, and Newby, 29, were found in the basement of their home on Northeast 12th Street by a concerned friend and relative checking on their welfare.
Deschutes County District Attorney John Hummel had repeatedly said over the ensuing months that the investigation was active, but that there was not yet sufficient evidence to bring any charges. The long wait for any arrests frustrated friends and family members, as well as others in the community.
Hummel told reporters during a news conference Friday at Bend Municipal Court that the pair died of blunt force trauma.
Hummel said his office and others involved in the case were getting a lot of pressure as time went by, but that it took extra time to build the case.
"Ken was the mastermind of these murders," Hummel said in the announcement, "and he was assisted by Nathan, his nephew."
Hummel says the motive was a dispute over inheritance money from Ray and Kenneth's father and explained why it took so long to make arrests.
He defended his wait for enough evidence to charge both men.
"We saw evidence, quickly, that there was more than one killer involved. If we moved quickly to arrest our main suspect, we would have never gotten the evidence of Nathan Shane Detroit," Hummel said.
And he said the key evidence came when a new team of prosecutors -- he called them the "new eyes team," led by Matt Nelson -- found a key link.
"You look at the same evidence every day, sometimes you miss something," he said. "It's really important, because we saw another key evidence in that new look. It was that new piece we saw in that new look that cracked it." He wouldn't divulge now what that was.
Bend Police Chief Mike Krantz says there were hundreds of pieces of evidence and his team had surveillance on the suspects.
For the families of Ray and Natasha, the day's arrests brought some peace.
Racheil Hoffman, Newby's sister, told NewsChannel 21 what these arrests mean to them.
"Just knowing that they're behind bars, and there's no bail, is a huge relief off of our backs," Hoffman said.
Hoffman has spent the past 14 months fighting for justice -- which Hummel recognized.
"I thanked her. I thanked her for her tireless advocacy for her sister," Hummel said. "She pushed me, right? She was tough with me. And every time she was, I knew where it was coming from. It was coming from the love she has for her sister."
Hummel said the two men "are presumed innocent of these crimes, and in fact, are innocent of them, unless and until the State proves their guilt beyond a reasonable doubt."
Hummel also issued this statement to the residents of Deschutes County:
“Ray and Natasha’s families have been waiting 14 months for the arrest of the killers of their loved ones. I committed to working tirelessly on this case until we had sufficient evidence to move forward. Thanks to the dogged work of Bend Police Detectives, the Oregon State Police Crime Lab, and the deputy district attorneys and trial assistants in my office, we secured sufficient evidence to prove who committed these crimes and how they committed these crimes.”
Bend Police Chief Mike Krantz also issued a statement:
“I am hopeful that this arrest will bring a small measure of closure and peace to the family and friends of Ray and Natasha. The investigators in this case who have spent and committed nearly every day since August 15, 2020, working on bringing justice for the killings of Ray and Natasha wrote over 50 search warrants for evidence, wrote over 380 police reports, and collected nearly 500 pieces of evidence. The Bend Police Department has relied upon the collaborative partnership we have with the Deschutes County District Attorney’s Office and numerous area law enforcement agencies that assisted in some way to conduct this thorough investigation and we are grateful for their committed partnerships.”
Hummel said Friday that Atkinson Jr. and Newby were engaged to be married the following spring. They had, he said, "lots of fur babies -- many cats, a puppy. They were loved. They will be missed."
Hoffman says while the suspects haven't been convicted, she's grateful for the arrests and is prepared for the journey ahead.
"They're finally going to get their justice," she said.