NORMAN, Okla. – A man and woman arrested in connection to the murder of a pregnant Oklahoma City woman pleaded guilty this month and received deferred sentences on charges filed in relation to the May 2018 slaying.
Family members told News 4 they called police after receiving a concerning text from 23-year-old Shaliyah Toombs on April 29. At the time, Toombs was eight months pregnant with her third child.
“It was disturbing and it was like, she’s in trouble,” Twyla Taylor said of her daughter’s last text message to her before her disappearance in an interview with News 4 on May 2. According to court documents, Toombs wrote to her mother, “They gonna kill me mom help me (sic).”
Several days later, McClain County deputies found Toombs’ body inside a vehicle near Goldsby.
According to court documents, 34-year-old Daniel Vasquez walked into a convenience store near Hwy 9 and I-35 on May 2 after the pickup truck he was driving ran out of gas. Once there, a probable cause affidavit said Vasquez told a Chickasaw Lighthorse Police Officer he ran out of gas and “there was a murder victim” in the pickup. Toombs was found dead in the backseat floor board.
According to the Oklahoma State Medical Examiner, Toombs died from manual strangulation due to an assault and ruled her death a homicide. The report said her body was partially decomposed by the time it arrived at the medical examiner’s office. According to an affidavit, the motive behind the slaying was over a stolen backpack.
Now, it seems that two other people are involved in the bizarre murder case.
Michael Allen Mate, 33, of Macomb, and Cecilia Morales, 30, of Oklahoma City, were charged last August in Cleveland County with one count of accessory to a felony.
Prosecutors alleged Morales, Toombs’ roommate, concealed information about her murder to help Joshua Finkbeiner, 31, and Stacy Harjo, 42. Mate was accused of giving Harjo and Finkbeiner a dealer tag to cover Finkbeiner’s Arkansas license plate.
This month, Mate and Morales pleaded guilty to a lesser charge of compounding or concealing crimes and were given a three year deferred sentence. Court documents don’t indicate Mate and Morales were directly involved in the murder of Toombs and her unborn child, but were alleged to have been involved or had knowledge of some of the events the night of Toombs’ death and the following days.
“It looks like they made deals to cooperate with the government, to aid in the prosecution of the main players, whatever crime that may be,” said News 4 legal analyst and criminal defense attorney David McKenzie, speaking of Morales and Mate’s guilty pleas to the lesser charges. “It’s valid police work, and prosecutorial work, to go for the low-hanging fruit and work your way up to the people that deserve the harshest of punishment.”
Finkbeiner, Harjo and Daniel Vasquez were charged in May 2018 in McClain County with two counts of first degree murder and prosecutors are seeking the death penalty.
A probable cause affidavit said Toombs borrowed Stacy Harjo’s Jeep in late April. Inside the vehicle was a backpack that Joshua Finkbeiner and Harjo accused Toombs of stealing. Court documents say Finkbeiner and Harjo went to Toombs’ Oklahoma City apartment in the early morning hours of April 29, where they met Vasquez and Toombs.
A probable cause affidavit says Finkbeiner told investigators he and Harjo went to the apartment with the plan to scare Toombs into returning the backpack. Finkbeiner said Harjo told Vasquez he could leave, but that Vasquez didn’t want to, and that after he and Vasquez searched the apartment for the missing backpack, the four left in his pickup truck to find it.
In an interview with investigators, Vasquez said Finkbeiner and Harjo forced him and Toombs, at gunpoint, to get into Finkbeiner’s pickup truck to search for the backpack. At some point, while driving around, Finkbeiner started choking Toombs.
Harjo, Finkbeiner and Vasquez’ accounts differ as to what led up to Toombs’ strangulation, but that both Finkbeiner and Vasquez choked Toombs, according to a probable cause affidavit. Harjo left with Finkbeiner following after her, leaving Vasquez with $60 in gas money, Finkbeiner’s cell phone and the pickup truck with Toombs’ body in it.
Court papers say Vasquez told investigators he drove back to Toombs’ apartment and charged his phone and sent Toombs a text message, despite knowing her body was in the pickup truck outside. Vasquez is accused of driving Finkbeiner’s pickup truck with Toombs’ body in it for at least three days until he ran out of gas.
Arkansas child exchange
In the days after Vasquez’ arrest, investigators started looking for Finkbeiner and his 2018 Jeep Grand Cherokee with Arkansas tags, which Harjo often drove. OSBI agents traveled to Arkansas on May 4 after learning Finkbeiner had a child exchange scheduled for the following day in Conway County, according to court documents.
On May 5, investigators learned Finkbeiner’s mother was waiting for the child exchange. After speaking with investigators, she called Finkbeiner and handed the phone to investigators. The call – to Harjo’s cell phone – was traced to nearby Cleburne County, where the sheriff’s office found 30-year-old Cecilia Morales, Harjo, Finkbeiner, and his Grand Cherokee with Oklahoma dealer tags covering the Arkansas plate.
Finkbeiner was arrested and Harjo and Morales were taken into custody for questioning.
According to a probable cause affidavit, the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation downloaded text messages from Harjo’s cell phone detailing conversations between her and Morales, that the two discussed the stolen property, and that Toombs needed to help find it.
In the downloaded conversations, court documents show Morales was in contact with Harjo the morning of Toombs’ murder, provided her with possible names and addresses where the property might be located and asked Harjo to get her things from Toombs’ apartment.
In one message, court documents say Harjo told Morales, “I have a gun to her head and she crying and coming out with this (sic)”
The probable cause affidavit says Morales responded: “Oh she’s crying lol now she knows what it feels like to have a gun pointed at her! How does she think I felt whenever she sat there & told a m—– f—– could put 1 to my head! Then laughed about it & said oh well!!! Will you please geet my stuff outta that closet or she’s not gonna even let me have any of it! (sic)”
In another message shortly before 5:30 a.m., according to a probable cause affidavit, Harjo told Morales, “We almostvthere (almost there) is there anything you wanna say ringer before she dies (sic).”
In a interview with investigators, according to the probable cause affidavit, Morales said she met up with Harjo at the Riverwind Casino on April 28 after saying her roommate, Toombs, was being “a little grouchy.” Morales told investigators she eventually went back to Harjo and Finkbeiner’s apartment where Harjo told her that they were going to talk to Toombs about the stolen property, but that Morales didn’t want to go along.
Morales told investigators that she met back up with Finkbeiner and Harjo at a casino, and Harjo told her that Toombs wanted her to have the apartment keys so she could get her things, and that Toombs had stolen Finkbeiner’s pickup truck and cell phone, which Morales found odd.
A probable cause affidavit says two days after Toombs’ body was found, Morales said she got a call from someone who said people were looking for her. Morales told investigators Harjo overheard the conversation and told Finkbeiner to get rid of Morales’ cell phone, which she said was smashed on the side of the road somewhere between Arkansas and Oklahoma City.
The car dealership employee
Finkbeiner and Harjo told investigators that the two walked to 33-year-old Michael Mate’s house after Toombs’ death and that Mate drove Finkbeiner and Harjo to the Grand Cherokee. According to court documents, Harjo told investigators she didn’t provide details, but did tell Mate a general synopsis of what happened to Toombs, and that Mate, who worked at a used car dealership, later gave her and Finkbeiner an Oklahoma dealer tag to conceal the Grand Cherokee’s Arkansas tag. In exchange for helping, Harjo said Mate wanted Finkbeiner to buy a pickup from him at the dealership.
Finkbeiner said he and Harjo were back at Mate’s house on May 2. While there, Finkbeiner told investigators Mate put the Oklahoma dealer tag over the Arkansas tag, “to keep him from getting pulled over,” according to court documents. Finkbeiner said the dealer tag was Harjo’s idea and that he wasn’t sure what Mate knew about the murder.
When Mate was interviewed by investigators, several weeks after Toombs’ body was found, Mate said Harjo told him she and Finkbeiner were going to Arkansas “because they were in some trouble,” according to a probable cause affidavit, “and there was some people looking for her and Finkbeiner” and it “had to do with stolen property.” Before leaving, Mate also told investigators Harjo, Finkbeiner and Morales dropped off some clothes and purses at his house, and that he hadn’t seen Harjo since.
When investigators showed Mate a picture of the Oklahoma dealer tag on Finkbeiner’s Jeep, Mate said the tag belonged to him and that he didn’t give it to Harjo or Finkbeiner, and had thought he lost it or left the tag in another car and that it would eventually show up.
When investigators searched Harjo’s phone, court documents say on May 4, Harjo and Mate discussed purchasing and financing of a new vehicle, with Mate later telling Harjo: “Well ive got the used car dealer tag now to if you guys end up just taking the car (sic).”
Messages to attorneys for Finkbeiner and Harjo were not returned; Vasquez’ attorney declined to comment. Messages to Mate and Morales’ attorneys went unreturned.
Vazquez and Harjo are scheduled to appear in April for a preliminary hearing.
News 4 spoke with Cleveland County District Attorney Greg Mashburn, who is also prosecuting Finkbeiner, Harjo and Vasquez, but he declined to comment at this time.