3 years, 10 months prison for Zuni Pueblo man who killed girlfriend, brother in DUI crash

  • Joey Unkestine crashed his car on Oct. 18, 2018, killing 2 people
  • Prosecutor Frederick Mendenhall set Joey Unkestine’s sentence at 3 years 10 months in a binding plea deal
  • Unkestine had a history of alcohol-related convictions
  • Mendenhall: Killing two people did not warrant a heftier sentence

See the case write-up or more stories about the case

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — On Oct. 18, 2019, the 1-year anniversary of the day he rolled his Ford Explorer, killing his girlfriend, his brother and injuring his girlfriend’s 9-year-old son, Joey Unkestine received a three year and 10 month sentence.

The sentence was no surprise. When Unkestine pleaded guilty on June 20, 2019, to two counts of involuntary manslaughter and one count of child endangerment, federal prosecutor Frederick Mendenhall had already agreed to the binding sentence when he brought it to Federal Magistrate Judge Jerry Ritter, who initially accepted the plea, but deferred final acceptance to the sentencing judge.

Ultimately, Federal District Court Judge Scott Skavdahl issued the sentence, which only carried two years of probation. Mendenhall asked for three.

According to the plea agreement and a sentencing memorandum written by Mendenhall, Unkestine crashed a 2002 Ford Explorer on Highway 53 on the Zuni Pueblo on Oct. 18, 2018, killing his girlfriend, Katherine Edaakie, his brother, Elison Unkestine, referred to in court documents as K.E. and E.U. and injuring his girlfriend’s son, referred to as D.G. His blood-alcohol level was later measured at 0.35 and he was estimated to be driving between 74 and 93 mph on a 55-mph-limit road. For comparison, the legal-per-se limit is 0.08 and above 0.40 can be fatal.

Opioids and methamphetamine were also found in his system, although he claimed he used no drugs that day. The brother and girlfriend had also been drinking while he was driving. D.G. received “only scrapes and bruises,” Mendenhall wrote.

Unkestine had several prior convictions “involving alcohol” but all of them were tribal, Mendenhall wrote.

On March 18, 2019, a grand jury indicted Unkestine on two counts of involuntary manslaughter and one count of child endangerment, according to the indictment.

According to Mendenhall’s sentencing memorandum, three years, 10 months is the “upper-guideline sentence” and reflects the seriousness of the offense.

Because the two people in the car were drinking, their deaths do not warrant a sentence at the top of the sentencing range. However, the child being placed in danger did warrant the lengthier sentence, as did his history with alcohol, he wrote.

Mendenhall did not write why, specifically, he agreed to a three year sentence for the deaths of two people, one of which left a child without his mother. However, he noted that both he and the defense minimized the uncertainty that comes with a trial.

Federal District Court Judge Scott Skavdahl sentenced Unkestine, on Oct. 18, 2019, to the three years, 10 months stipulated in the plea agreement and two years probation, a year less than requested by the prosecutor, according to the sentencing minute sheet.

No investigative documents appear in the court record, but that may not be a surprise because so many of the documents in the case, seven of the 40 documents, are sealed. That means 17 percent of the documents in the case are sealed.

According to the local rules and federal rules, documents are only supposed to be filed under seal for good reason and a record of the motion to file a document under seal is supposed to appear on the court docket, as outlined by Jeff Proctor in New Mexico In Depth.

According to Mendenhall’s sentencing memorandum, the only document that was docketed but is not public is #27, the pre-sentencing investigation report by the probation department.

However, according to the docket, entry 28 was also sealed, as were 30 and 31. In addition, documents 34-36 appear to be sealed with no motions for sealing and no record of sealing, a process which is supposed to warrant a judge’s approval.

According to Sealing Court Records and Proceedings: A Pocket Guide, “(there) should be a public record of what is sealed and why, consistent with the reason for sealing.”

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See the documents on Google Drive

See the case write-up here


  • Suspect: Joey Unkestine
  • Victim: Katherine Edaakie (Joey Unkestine’s girlfriend)
  • Victim: Elison Unkestine (Joey Unkestine’s brother)
  • Non-fatal victim: A child, D.G., 9 (Edaakie’s son)
  • Date of incident: Oct. 18, 2018
  • Charges: Two counts of involuntary manslaughter and one count of child endangerment
  • Status: Guilty plea to two counts of involuntary manslaughter and child endangerment; binding plea agreement; sentenced
  • Sentence: 3 years, 10 months followed by 2 years probation, per plea agreement
  • Investigating agency: Unknown
  • Location: Highway 53, Zuni Pueblo, McKinley County
  • Magistrate case number: None
  • District case number: 19-cr-0094
  • Prosecutor: Frederick Mendenhall
  • Plea judge (magistrate): Jerry Ritter
  • Sentencing judge (district): Scott Skavdahl
The Albuquerque federal criminal courthouse. Ken Lund/Flickr. License CC BY-SA 2.0.

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