She was found in the river 2 months after she went missing. Her boyfriend admitted killing her

The case of the murdered Tri-Cities mom

Detective Sgt. Jamie Raebel of the Pasco Police Department provides a timeline into the murder investigation of Michelle Hudnall.
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Detective Sgt. Jamie Raebel of the Pasco Police Department provides a timeline into the murder investigation of Michelle Hudnall.

A 28-year-old man is going to prison for helping kill his girlfriend, then dumping her body in the Columbia River in north Pasco.

Benny Rodriguez Lozano Jr. was sentenced to 12 years behind bars as part of a plea agreement for the Mother’s Day 2018 death of Michelle Hudnall.

Lozano pleaded guilty in Franklin County Superior Court to a reduced charge of first-degree manslaughter for recklessly causing her death. He originally was charged with second-degree murder.

That leaves one more person still to face trial for the beating and strangling of the West Richland woman.

Florentino Jai Castillo is set to go to trial on Sept. 30.

Guadalupe A. Sanchez entered a guilty plea earlier this year to first-degree rendering criminal assistance and was sentenced to one year and three months in prison for his role in Hudnall’s death.

The 40-year-old mother left behind four kids who, at the time, ranged from elementary school age to 19. She grew up in Burbank, and had worked as a certified nursing assistant and held other jobs over the years.

Her mother, Davietta Hudnall, says Michelle was much loved and is missed every day.

michelle kids
Michelle Hudnall had four kids, clockwise from top left, Corey, Iggy, Caden and Chloe. Courtesy of Joedie Lee Hosley

“She didn’t deserve to die by your hand. You had no right to take her life away from her and her family,” Davietta Hudnall said at Lozano’s sentencing. “Her death is a great loss to our family. It’s hard to live without Michelle everyday. We have to live knowing she’ll never come back to us.”

Her 11-year-old son told Lozano that only a sick person would kill another human being.

“You took a lot from me and my family when you murdered my mother,” said the boy. “Everytime I think about it, all I feel is pain. ... My life feels empty without her, and all I have now are memories.”

May 2018 murder

Michelle Hudnall was killed May 13, 2018, while riding around in her van with Lozano and Castillo.

A witness told investigators that Lozano called Hudnall his girlfriend.

He and Castillo allegedly killed her because, “She wouldn’t shut her f------ mouth,” documents said.

Hudnall Castillo court.jpg
Florentino Jai Castillo has a September trial date in Franklin County Superior Court. He is one of three suspects in the May 2018 death of Michelle Hudnall. Tri-City Herald File

The men hauled Hudnall’s body into a Pasco apartment, then to the trunk of Sanchez’s car, according to court documents.

About 24 hours later, a group including the trio drove north toward rural Franklin County and rolled the tarp-wrapped body down a steep embankment into the river, documents said.

The suspects also burned their own shoes and gloves.

Hudnall’s decomposed remains were found more than seven weeks later on July near Carbody Beach.

Daviette Hudnall last talked with her daughter May 11, but she didn’t file an official missing person report until June 28.

Murder Carbody Beach
A fishing boat speeds past the site on the Columbia River known as Carbody Beach in rural Franklin County, where the remains of Michelle Hudnall were discovered in July 2018.

The family waited because Michelle Hudnall occasionally dropped off the radar for periods of time. But they knew something was wrong when the mother did not show up to say goodbye to her kids for a summer visit with their father.

Making weapons in jail

Lozano returned to a Franklin County courtroom earlier this week and entered a guilty plea to illegal possession of a weapon by a prisoner.

Court documents show he was locked up on the murder charge when he possessed “a plastic shank that, if used, could cause serious bodily injury” to someone.

Another inmate reportedly told a corrections officers that Lozano had three makeshift knives in his cell.

Lozano claims that even though he was not legally authorized to have shanks in the jail, he needed to protect himself, according to his plea statement.

He told a sheriff’s deputy last August that he didn’t make the weapons to hurt anyone. He just liked the look of them, documents said.

A judge sentenced Lozano to four months in that case. It will be served at the same time as his manslaughter prison term.

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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.