Dennis Lovato sentenced to 12 years for killing man on the Kewa Pueblo

  • Sentence was set per a plea agreement accepted by the judge

The summary of the case

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — On Oct. 24, 2013, Dennis Lovato pleaded guilty to second-degree murder for beating Joseph Melvin Lucero to death outside Lucero’s home.

Historic Kewa/Santo Domingo Indian Trading Post. Photo by Killbox/Flickr. CC BY-NC

In the plea, negotiated by federal prosecutor Mark Baker and accepted by Federal Magistrate Judge Steven Yarbrough, Lovato received a 12-year sentence followed by five years of supervised release.

In his sentencing memorandum, Lovato’s attorney, John Moon Samore asked the judge to accept the plea and described the victim as a 61-year-old alcoholic bent on hurting Lovato.

“The Pre-Sentence Report fairly describes Mr. Lovato’s promising childhood, his disconcerting slide into youthful alcohol abuse, and his presence in the hours leading up to the fatal confrontation in the company of two middle-aged, severe alcoholics with long criminal histories,” Samore wrote.  “Whatever the precipitating factor, Mr. Lovato wound up in a ‘fight for his life’ with yet another middle-aged alcoholic, who was bent on hurting Mr. Lovato. Mr. Lucero’s extensive criminal history and violent past is fairly summarized in the PSR and Addendum. Mr. Lovato eventually overwhelmed Mr. Lucero, and the evidence indicated he administered more blows than necessary to defend himself.”

Baker wrote his own sentencing memorandum, asking the judge to accept the plea.

“Before entering the plea agreement, the United States closely reviewed the evidence and the law, and discussed this disposition with the victim’s son,” Baker wrote. “During a call with undersigned counsel, the victim’s son indicated that, although no sentence would be enough to make right what happened, he did not object to the plea. The proposed sentence of 144 months is lower than the advisory guideline sentence if Lovato pled to the indictment without an agreement, but is well above the advisory guideline sentence for a plea to Voluntary Manslaughter.”

He must serve 85 percent of his sentence, or just over 10 years.

According to the Bureau of Prisons website, he is set to be released on Sept. 27, 2021. He is currently being housed at the Yazoo City medium security prison in Yazoo City, Mississippi.

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For more information, please see the case summary


Suspect: Dennis Lovato

Victim: Joseph Melvin Lucero

Charges: Second-degree murder

Status: Guilty plea to second-degree murder

Sentence: 12 years, per plea agreement

Date of incident: April 15, 2011

Investigating Agency: FBI

Location: Kewa Pueblo, outside victim’s house 

Federal district case number: 11­-CR-­01213

The Albuquerque federal criminal courthouse. Photo by Ken Lund via Flickr.