Suspect pleads not guilty in Gresham man's 2015 murder as victim's ex speaks out

Avonte Armstead, 22, pleaded not guilty to murder Friday in a Multnomah County courtroom.

A man who was indicted in the 2015 death of Gresham resident Irvin Batalla, 22, pleaded not guilty to murder on Friday.

Batalla was reported missing for two days by his family in July 2015.

Oregon State Police (OSP) said Avonte Armstead, 22, was found driving the car Batalla drove on July 6, 2015. The car was owned by Irvin's father but family and friends said Irvin drove it often. Troopers said Armstead crashed the vehicle in Lane County while carrying two other people. He was cited for charges related to the crash and arrested on a warrant in a separate case. Investigators said a key was stuck in the car's ignition.

On July 7, 2015 Batalla's body was found at the base of a cliff at Rocky Butte in Northeast Portland. Near his body, investigators said they found a lanyard belonging to him with a house key and an electronic fob for a car attached to it, but no car key.

Batalla's cause of death was listed as "blunt force trauma" but his manner of death -- how he fell from the cliff -- remained undetermined for about two years. Police reported a break in the case occurred in September of last year when Armstead was indicted for Batalla's murder.

Armstead was extradited from Nevada this month where he just completed a two-year prison sentence in a drug-dealing case. On Friday, he faced a judge for the first time in the murder case.

Neither Portland police nor the Multnomah County District Attorney's Office would say why it took more than two years for Armstead to face charges in the case.

READ MORE: Brother of man who died mysteriously in 2015 discusses recent indictment of murder suspect

Last spring, Irvin's ex-girlfriend, Karina, told KATU Batalla knew Armstead.

"I didn't know Avonte personally," Karina, who did not want to publicly reveal her last name, told KATU on Friday. "I didn't feel too comfortable being around him. I did let him know, you know, 'Stay away from him. Obviously, these kind of people you're gonna get yourself into trouble even being with them.'"

Armstead has a lengthy criminal record, including convictions for theft, trespassing and sex abuse.

Karina said she and Batalla were together for four years but broke up about nine months before his death.

"We stayed in touch after that. For him to make sure he's OK and for him to know that I'm OK. Also if I ever needed anything he was always there, you know, just to talk to or lend a helping hand for sure," she said.

She added that Batalla struggled with drugs but had a job as a machine operator at the time of his murder.

Armstead's mother has told KATU her son is not guilty and will be proven innocent.

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