Murder in the Heartland is featuring the case of Lori Bray, who was murdered by Diego Hernandez.
In the early hours of Oct. 1, 2019, Bray went missing. The 57-year-old was last seen leaving her job at Cedar Ridge Casino in Laurel, Montana.
Later that morning, her son found her 2003 Chrysler sedan near the intersection of Buffalo Trail and Laurel Airport Road.
The sunroof was opened, which he thought was unusual, and her purse, cell phone, and clothing were left inside the vehicle.
Law enforcement started a search effort involving 50 people. They searched the areas surrounding Buffalo Trail Road but to no avail.
On Oct. 2, Bray was found dead about three miles from where her vehicle was found.
Authorities said a man riding his ATV through a wooded area near Yard Office Road and Ridge Drive found her naked and beaten body in a ditch.Watch the Latest on our YouTube Channel
The medical examiner ruled Bray’s death a homicide after learning through an autopsy that she died from strangulation.
DNA evidence linked Diego Hernandez to the murder
Surveillance footage from the casino captured Bray opening the passenger door of her vehicle for a man. When witnesses identified him as Hernandez, deputies went to his home and interviewed him.
The then-22-year-old told them that Bray offered to take him home. While there, they had sex, and she smoked a cigarette before leaving.
Hernandez said that was the last time he saw her.
Deputies arrested Hernandez on suspicion of homicide. He was booked into the Yellowstone County Detention Facility and held on a $500,000 bond.
Experts said the DNA collected from Hernandez matched the DNA found on Bray’s fingernail clippings, blood samples from her vehicle, and clothing.
A footprint at the crime scene also matched a pair of black Nike tennis shoes that Hernandez had on the night he was with Bray.
When investigators searched his phone, they found that on Oct. 1, he searched for “how long do investigations last?”
Thirty seconds later, he did another search: “How long do FBI investigations last, is there a limit to how many years then can investigate someone?”
Six-day trial ends with a guilty verdict
In March 2021, a jury convicted Hernandez of deliberate homicide after deliberating for two hours.
Several months later, a Yellowstone County District Court judge sentenced Hernandez to life in prison. He will not be eligible for parole after he has spent 35 years behind bars.
Murder in the Heartland airs Wednesdays at 9/8c on Investigation Discovery.