Drug trial witness describes 6-year-old boy's 2008 abduction

Las Vegas police detectives didn't physically harm Billy Joe Murray when they questioned him after the 2008 kidnapping of 6-year-old Cole Puffinburger.

They just severely scarred his psyche, Murray testified Tuesday in federal court.

An estimator at an auto body shop and fiance of the boy's mother, Julie Puffinburger, Murray said Las Vegas police were relentless during a marathon interrogation that included screaming at him and other forms of intimidation. They wanted him to confess that the kidnapping was a hoax and an attempt to force the boy's grandfather to come out of hiding with millions in stolen drug money.

"I had nothing to do with Cole's kidnapping," Murray said. "They didn't hurt me, but psychologically they destroyed my mind."

Two men, Jose "Miguel" Lopez-Buelna and Luis Vega-Rubio, are on trial on kidnapping and drug charges in connection with Cole's kidnapping.

On trial on drug trafficking charges are Erik DeShawn Webster and Roberto Lopez.

Prosecutors allege Cole was abducted at gunpoint after his grandfather, Clemens Tinnemeyer, stole $4.5 million from Mexican drug traffickers.

Defense lawyers have accused the boy's mother and grandmother of staging the kidnapping to lure Tinnemeyer out of hiding with the money.

Murray acknowledged that he and family friend Shane Skougard spread false rumors about the boy being kidnapped in the weeks leading up to a 911 call reporting the daylight abduction on Oct. 15, 2008. Skougard testified last week about the ruse.

While Las Vegas police believed the kidnapping was "an inside job," the FBI took over the case and followed a different trail, one involving drug smuggling, a Mexican cartel looking for $4.5 million that went missing, and a young boy who paid the price for his grandfather's deeds.

Authorities contend Tinnemeyer, who now is in custody, smuggled drugs and money in recreational vehicles for the cartel until a 2008 arrest in Utah. After his release, Tinnemeyer decided to take the money, between $4.5 million and $8 million, and run, authorities said.

Defense attorneys have had difficulty serving subpoenas on Metropolitan Police Department investigators who handled the case initially, but Assistant U.S. Attorney Margaret Honrath told U.S. District Judge Gloria Navarro late Tuesday afternoon that the officers agreed to be served via facsimile. They are expected to testify when the defense attorneys present their case.

While Las Vegas police first pointed the finger at Murray, Julie Puffinburger and her mother, Murray offered a different account in which he feared for his life.

The family's unlocked front door opened about 7:20 a.m. the day of the kidnapping, Murray said, and a well-dressed, clean-cut Hispanic man with a police badge on his belt walked inside.

"Something didn't seem right," Murray said, adding that the man pulled a gun when he tried to confront him.

Murray could hear other men but didn't see them. "My focus was on the gun in my face," he said.

Murray said they tied him up, using zip ties on his wrists and ankles, and duct tape around his face.

Julie Puffinburger was next.

"Cole was ripped from my arms. I could hear him screaming," Murray said. "At one point, they covered my head with a blanket. That's when I thought I wouldn't make it."

The leader was "barking orders in Spanish" and telling his partners to "look for the money" in English, Murray said.

After the men left, Julie Puffinburger crawled to him and removed the tape from his face using her teeth, he said. They managed to open the door and scream for help until neighbors arrived.

Murray said neighbors cut him out of his restraints immediately because he was screaming in agony from the position of his arms.

Julie Puffinburger was still tied up when the first police officer arrived at the house near Nellis and Lake Mead boulevards minutes after the 911 call. Murray said she was "hysterical" after the kidnapping and she later "froze" and became "emotionless."

None of the defendants in the courtroom were identified as the intruder.

Weeks before the kidnapping, Tinnemeyer sent his daughter $60,000 in cash, Murray said. He said they used about half the money as a down payment on a house and for renovations.

Cole Puffinburger was found unharmed about 10:30 p.m. Oct. 18, 2008.

Contact Doug McMurdo at dmcmurdo@reviewjournal.com or 702-224-5512.