Her neighbor, 28-year-old Joshua Niles, stands in the driveway on this afternoon, Oct. 22, 2018. His girlfriend, 24-year-old Amber Washburn, had just wheeled her truck in from the street. She is still in the driver’s seat. Niles is talking to a man in a dark sweatshirt, the hood yanked up over his head to hide his face.
Thayer turns away from the window, fishing gummies out of the kitchen cabinet for her son. Then, a blast rips through the afternoon.
“I heard a shot and I turned and I saw Josh grab his chest and Amber threw her car in reverse,” Thayer testified on Monday, the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle reported. “I saw Josh crawling underneath his truck, calling for Amber.”
As Thayer’s testimony continued this week, details emerged of the next frantic moments: The man in the hoodie stood over Niles and fired again. Then, he swung around to the woman in the car. “When he turned and shot in Amber’s car, I saw his face,” Thayer told the court this week. With Washburn slumped at the wheel, the truck rolled down the driveway until smashing into a neighbor’s vehicle across the street.
Both Niles and Washburn were killed in the attack. When police arrived at the house, an unhurt infant was discovered in the back of the truck Washburn had been driving. The child, as well as another sibling, would turn out to be the motive behind the brutal episode, prosecutors now allege.
According to authorities, Niles’s ex-girlfriend, Charlene Childers, then 25 and living in Texas, hatched the murder plot in an effort to get back the two children she had with Niles. To carry out her plan, she allegedly turned to her current husband, Timothy Dean, a former police chief in Texas.
As the ex-lawman’s murder trial opened this week, prosecutors alleged that Dean, now 34, personally drove nearly 1,600 miles from Texas to New York to gun down Niles and Washburn. The state’s main evidence in the case is Childers, who pleaded guilty to first-degree manslaughter and criminal possession of a weapon last month, according to Spectrum News.
“I told my husband the murder had to happen, and he agreed,” Childers said in court Tuesday, WROC reported.
Dean, who has pleaded not guilty, contends that the evidence lined up against him is circumstantial. In court this week, Dean’s attorney, Joe Damelio, attacked Childers’s credibility.
“She’s told many different versions for many different reasons, and most of them seem to be self-serving,” the attorney told jurors, according to Spectrum News.
The relationship between Childers and Niles started back in New York. They had two children together before splitting up. Childers told the court she moved to Texas in 2013, and the two kids initially went with her. It’s unclear how she and Dean became involved, but a cross-country custody battle soon raged between the parents.
In August 2018, Niles was awarded full custody, and the children were sent back to New York. “I know Charlene was very upset about the situation,” a friend told WHAM.
Childers lost her children as Dean’s own law enforcement career was also crumbling. The police chief of Sunray, Tex., a tiny town in the state’s panhandle, Dean was charged with one count of injury to a child in May 2018. The details of the allegation have not been made public, but according to KFDA, Dean was forced to resign from his position.
His Texan neighbors would later recall Dean as strange.
“For instance, when I’d see him at the alley or dumping garbage, he was always carrying his gun,” a neighbor told KFDA. “I was like, ‘Just to take your garbage?’ He was very different. "
According to the Democrat & Chronicle, Childers said in her testimony this week that in October 2018, after losing custody and as her husband’s law enforcement career appeared stained from his criminal charge, she returned to New York to spend time with her two children.
On the long drive back to Texas, feeling “pissed and depressed,” she decided to have Niles killed. When she returned home, she told Dean about her plan, and he agreed.
“We sat down and we planned it, describing how we were going to do it and what would be used, what type of gun and when,” she told the court.
The plan, Childers alleges, was for Dean to get a 9mm handgun from the Sunray Police Department. He then enlisted a friend from the department, Bron Bohlar, to rent a car for his trip east. (Bohlar was also arrested for his involvement in the murder plot and pleaded guilty in February to second-degree conspiracy.)
When Dean crashed his rental in Kansas, Childers drove to meet him and rented another car in her name, she testified — an incident that helped investigators tie the couple to the New York killings.
Childers told the jury that Washburn was never supposed to be killed. When she heard about the murders, she called Niles’s family and drove to New York to be with her two children.
“I got what I wanted,” Childers told the court, according to WROC.
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