Spokane teenager dead in Montana likely was strangled 5-31-07

ARLEE, Mont. (AP) - A young Spokane, Wash., woman whose body was found on a road southwest of town likely was strangled with a cord, rope or similar object, authorities said.

After Tasheena Craft, 18, was found dead Tuesday, authorities said that she had been beaten in the head, but a forensic pathologist at the state crime lab told Lake County investigators Wednesday that she died of “homicidal violence” that included “probable ligature strangulation.”

Officers have arrested Kelly Birmingham, 19, also known as Kelly Stanfield. Besides murder, he faces an evidence tampering charge for allegedly moving Craft's body and felony escape for allegedly kicking out the window of a patrol vehicle and jumping out while he was being taken to jail.

His father, Wayne Stanfield of Arlee, died Sunday in a motorcycle crash on Interstate 90 near Missoula.

Craft's mother, Diana Cote, told The Spokesman-Review newspaper of Spokane the killer broke a window and entered her home near Pablo about 3 a.m., then attacked her daughter, pulled her outside and drove off with the young woman in a pickup truck.

Cote, an enrolled member of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribe who lives on the Flathead Reservation, also told the newspaper she believes the daughter's killing was racially motivated.

“We're not ruling it (racism) out, but we have no motive yet,” Salish and Kootenai tribal Police Chief Craige Couture said, adding that Birmingham refused to talk with detectives.

Investigators said Wednesday that Birmingham was friends with Craft's boyfriend. Craft and Birmingham “knew each other vaguely,” Undersheriff Jay Doyle said.

Craft's brother, Shonto Pete of Spokane, Wash., told KREM Television there that Craft had been living with him and attending high school in Spokane for the past year. He said she was back in Arlee visiting family and friends when she was killed.

“We sent her on a bus to visit her boyfriend, who had just returned from the war,” Pete told KREM. “She was adamant. I didn't want her to go because she would miss some school.”

Pete said Craft's boyfriend, Tyler Vale, is “really confused and angry.”

“He has to go back to war in a week, and now he has to take this back with him,” Pete said.

Birmingham spent Wednesday at St. Patrick Hospital in Missoula, where he was taken after allegedly breaking a window and jumping out of a patrol car. Doyle said Birmingham would be transported to the Lake County Detention Center in Polson when he is released from the hospital.