A Denver man who fatally shot a woman during a drug-fueled night inside an Indio hotel room was sentenced Thursday to 40 years to life in state prison.
Aaron Drayer, 22, was convicted of second-degree murder in March for the Jan. 15, 2017, death of 32-year-old Liliana Yanez at the Royal Plaza Inn at 82347 Highway 111.
Drayer declined to make a statement at the sentencing hearing, but a statement from Yanez’s mother, Soledad Arellano, was read to the court.
“I think it is fair that he never be set free, because just as he took my daughter, I can assure you, he will do it again,” she said. “I would not want any other family to go through this great pain.”
Deputy District Attorney Manny Bustamante told jurors that after a night spent inside a room at the hotel using drugs with Yanez and several of her acquaintances, Drayer and a friend of his left the hotel about 2 a.m., but he went back to retrieve a “book safe” — a hollowed-out dictionary in which he transported drugs.
Bustamante said that upon finding the book safe, Drayer suspected that someone had tampered with it and tried to steal from him. He then “held everyone in the room at gunpoint” to find out who tampered with the safe, but Yanez “didn’t take him seriously,” remained on her mobile phone and was unperturbed by Drayer brandishing a gun, the prosecutor said.
“Liliana Yanez simply did not show him the respect he felt he deserved,” said Bustamante, who told the jury that Yanez had been making Drayer paranoid and suspicious throughout the night when she wouldn’t get off her phone.
Drayer then trained his gun on her, to which her last words were “What are you going to” prior to being shot once in the chest. She died at the scene.
Drayer was sentenced to a mandatory 15 years to life on the murder count and 25 years to life for a gun use enhancement that Riverside County Superior Court Judge Otis Sterling could have stricken but opted to impose due to what he said was a lack of truthfulness on Drayer’s part regarding how the shooting occurred.
Drayer’s attorney, James Silva, maintained that his client shot Yanez in self-defense after she called people to come to the hotel and possibly kill Drayer and his friend, then tried to attack him. Silva said Yanez was being “belligerent” and that contrary to the prosecution’s claims, she was the one accusing Drayer of disrespect, not the other way around.
However, text messages recovered from Drayer’s cell phone indicated that he was considering robbing Yanez and her friends when first arriving at the hotel, but later changed his mind.
Silva said Drayer brought a gun because he didn’t feel comfortable with some of the people there, but the weapon was strictly for protection. “He had no motive at that time to kill anybody. He was there to have fun,” Silva said.
The attorney said that after hearing Yanez threatening to have people kill him, Drayer brandished the gun. As one of Yanez’s cohorts snuck up behind him, Yanez lunged across a bed at him, causing him to shoot her, Silva said.
Sterling said some evidence during the trial corroborated the idea that Drayer was afraid of being attacked by Yanez and her acquaintances, but his lack of truthfulness regarding the potential robbery cast doubt on all portions of his story, including whether the shooting was an unintentional reaction or an intentional killing.
Drayer left in an SUV with Colorado plates, which belonged to a family friend. San Bernardino County sheriff’s deputies caught up with the SUV owner, who said she lent Drayer the vehicle several days earlier and that he had the SUV on the night of Jan. 14.
Drayer, who witnesses said relocated to the Morongo Basin area about three months before the shooting, was found later that day hiding inside a bathroom in the woman’s Joshua Tree home and was arrested after trying to flee through a window.
The locked “book safe” was found by officers inside the hotel room, Bustamante said. Substances consistent with methamphetamine and cocaine were found inside the book safe, along with boxes of ammunition. More ammunition and drugs were found inside the SUV.