One man is charged with Tri-City drug murder, now another man could go on trial with him

Murder trial video deposition by Martin Mendoza

Martin Mendoza, witness and co-defendant, gives a recorded video deposition for use in the second-degree murder trial of Stephen Morfin in Benton County Superior Court.
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Martin Mendoza, witness and co-defendant, gives a recorded video deposition for use in the second-degree murder trial of Stephen Morfin in Benton County Superior Court.

A man charged with a 2017 killing over a $3,000 debt and the drug supplier who allegedly ordered it are scheduled to face a jury next week.

Stephen E. Morfin currently is the only one charged with the actual death of Martin Ibanez.

But Benton County prosecutors have put Carlos Tapia Torres on alert: If he takes his rendering criminal assistance case to trial, the charge will be bumped up to murder.

Morfin and Tapia Torres’ cases already have been consolidated into one trial Jan. 16.

Prosecutors say it’s to make sure the men are held equally accountable for the Sept. 11, 2017, shooting of Ibanez in a Kennewick driveway.

It will be the second trial for Morfin, 28, in the case. His first one in December ended in a mistrial after a witness alluded to Morfin having been locked up previously for another crime.

carlos tapias-torres.jpg
Carlos Tapias Torres

The second time around, Tapia Torres, 24, will be sitting next to him at the defense table, with his own second-degree murder charge.

According to court documents and witness testimony, Tapia Torres used to supply Ibanez with drugs to sell.

Ibanez eventually accrued a $3,000 to $4,000 debt to Tapia Torres, and the supplier felt it was time he pay up.

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Tapia Torres allegedly contacted another man, Martin Mendoza, on Sept. 10, 2017, and told him to get word to Ibanez that he was due.

Tapia Torres then changed his mind and told Mendoza not to say anything, but the message had already been passed on.

Mendoza, who also was in business with Tapia Torres, is the one who had introduced the two men.

In a public deposition last month, Mendoza said he was at work the following day when he got another call from Tapia Torres saying a friend was coming to pick up Mendoza and he needed to take the man to Ibanez.

Stephen Morfin mistrial
Stephen E. Morfin, pictured talking with his defense attorneys, is accused of fatally shooting Martin Ibanez in September 2017. Bob Brawdy Tri-City Herald

That man was Morfin, who was driving Tapia Torres’ Chevrolet Impala.

On the drive from Pasco, Morfin allegedly explained to Mendoza that he was going to collect the money owed to Tapia Torres.

Mendoza said he expected Morfin to assault his friend, and didn’t know he had a 9mm gun on him at the time.

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Ibanez, 39, was shot in the driveway during a confrontation and died at Trios Southridge Hospital.

During the drive back to Pasco, Morfin called Tapia Torres to say he had just shot Ibanez, court documents said.

Mendoza also claimed that Morfin was cleaning a gun, which he recognized as belonging to a friend and had been stolen.

This white Chevy Impala is believed to be the car Stephen E. Morfin drove to the scene of a Kennewick fatal shooting in September 2017. Kennewick Police Department

Mendoza pleaded guilty last year to driving Morfin from the shooting scene and helping hide the getaway car. He got a five-month county jail sentence for second-degree rendering criminal assistance, a gross misdemeanor.

Morfin is being held in the Benton County jail on $500,000 bail while awaiting trial on the murder charge.

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Tapia Torres is in jail on a state Department of Corrections hold. He is serving a three-year sentence for a first-degree robbery in Franklin County.

In that case, Tapia Torres was one of five people who attacked a man in front of his Pasco home last July.

homicide scene
Martin C. Ibanez, 39, was gunned down in the driveway of a Kennewick home on Sept. 11, 2017. File Tri-City Herald

Kristin M. Kraemer covers the judicial system and crime issues for the Tri-City Herald. She has been a journalist for more than 20 years in Washington and California.