Plea set for Tavor Tom in aunt’s stabbing death in Shiprock

• A change of plea hearing is set for Tavor Tom on Nov. 24, 2020
• A grand jury indicted Tom on a charge of second-degree murder for allegedly killing his aunt
• Tom told FBI agents he stabbed her seven to eight times and slit her throat

See the case write-up or read previous stories on the case

SHIPROCK, N.M. —  The Shiprock man who told police he stabbed his aunt and stole her car, before crashing it into a fence on his way to Farmington in 2019, is set for a change of plea hearing on Nov. 24, 2020.

Shiprock in the snow. Photo by Larry Lamsa/Flickr. CC-BY

According to a hearing notice, Tavor Tom, 19, is set for a change of plea hearing at 10 a.m. in front of Magistrate Judge Kirtan Khalsa. The hearing is to be held virtually, via Zoom.

A federal grand jury indicted him on July 9, 2019, on a charge of second-degree murder and his case has been continued at least four times. A jury trial in front of District Judge William Johnson had been set for Jan. 4. 2021.

Tom has been in custody since he was arrested on July 2, 2019. The prosecutor in the case appears to be Joseph Spindle with the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

At 10 a.m., July 2, 2019, the victim was found dead in her house by her father. Sometime during that same morning, Tavor Tom was found in the victim’s Jeep Cherokee, after he crashed into a fence in front of a church in Nenahnezad. Navajo Nation police officers found a bloody knife in the car, FBI Agent Cary Cahoon wrote in an affidavit for an arrest warrant.

During an interrogation, Tom told FBI agents he killed his maternal aunt with a folding knife he took from his father’s vehicle. He intended to go to her house to steal her car so he could drive it to Farmington to steal Mucinex. After he stole it from the store, he drove on the back roads toward Shiprock and he crashed the vehicle into a fence at a church in Nenahnezad. He was found in it the next morning, Cahoon wrote.

For more details on the crash, see the case write-up.

Continue reading “Plea set for Tavor Tom in aunt’s stabbing death in Shiprock”

Shiprock man pleads guilty to second-degree murder for killing fellow Navajo Nation man

  • Prosecutor David Cowen’s binding plea deal mandates a 15-year sentence for Zachariah Joe
  • The magistrate judge deferred acceptance of the plea until the “final disposition hearing”
  • No sentencing hearing has been set

See the full case summary

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — A 28-year-old Shiprock man pleaded guilty to second-degree murder, Oct. 31, 2019, for the stabbing death of a 32-year-old Navajo Nation tribal member at the beginning of the year.

Shiprock Pinnacle. Photo by DiAnn L’Roy/Flickr

Zachariah Joe pleaded guilty in federal Magistrate Court in Albuquerque to a criminal information charging him with second-degree murder, according to court documents.

According to the plea deal, Joe admitted killed Brett Micah Morgan by stabbing him 10 times in the chest and neck on Jan. 3, 2019.

The plea deal, signed off on by federal prosecutor David Cowen, states Joe would only receive a 15-year sentence, although any time spent on supervised release after serving a prison sentence would be up to the sentencing judge.

According to the minutes from the plea hearing, Magistrate Judge Kirtan Khalsa accepted the plea but deferred final acceptance to the “final disposition hearing” in front of a district court judge.

Continue reading “Shiprock man pleads guilty to second-degree murder for killing fellow Navajo Nation man”

Navajo Nation man, 19, arrested for allegedly stabbing his aunt to death in Shiprock

See the full case write-up here

SHIPROCK, N.M. — Agents with the Federal Bureau of Investigations charged a Shiprock man with murder for allegedly stabbing his aunt to death at her home on July 1, 2019.

Tavor Tom, 19, was charged with an open count of murder, according to a criminal complaint and affidavit filed on July 3 in federal District Court. He was later indicted on a charge of second-degree murder on July 9, 2019.

Shiprock Pinnacle. Photo by DiAnn L’Roy/Flickr

The woman, described by interviewed witnesses as Tom’s maternal aunt but unnamed in court documents (but identified by her year of birth, 1974), was found dead in her home at 10 a.m. the following day, July 2, 2019, by her father. Sometime during that same morning, Tom was found in the victim’s Jeep Cherokee, after he allegedly crashed into a fence in front of a church in Nenahnezad. Navajo Nation police officers found a bloody knife in the car, FBI agent Cary Cahoon wrote in an affidavit for an arrest warrant.

FBI agent Kalon Fancher interviewed Tom and advised him he did not have to speak with him, but Cahoon did not write if Fancher told Tom his Miranda rights.

According to Fancher’s interview with Tom, the latter allegedly admitted to killing the victim with a folding knife he took from his father’s vehicle with the intention of going to the victim’s house to steal her car so he could drive it to Farmington to steal Mucinex, Cahoon wrote.

Continue reading “Navajo Nation man, 19, arrested for allegedly stabbing his aunt to death in Shiprock”

Zachariah Stanley Joe: Brett Micah Morgan — 1-3-2019

 

Summary

Zachariah Joe first attacked Brett Micah Morgan after visiting with him and another man at a house in Shiprock. After being tackled to the ground, he locked Morgan and the other man, only identified in court documents as B.M., out of the house. He then found a kitchen knife and stabbed Morgan 10 times in the chest and neck, killing him, according to court records.

Joe pleaded guilty on Oct. 31, 2019 to a single charge of second-degree murder, according to court records.

The binding plea deal states he will receive a sentence of 15 years. However, the magistrate judge in the case has deferred acceptance of the plea agreement until sentencing by a district court judge.

No more hearings have been set in the case.

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The incident

Shiprock. Photo by Bowie Snodgrass/Flickr

On Jan. 3, 2019, Zachariah Stanley Joe, 28, showed up at a house where Brett Micah Morgan, 32, and another man, identified by the initials B.M., were hanging out. Joe had just been fired from Burger King in Shiprock, Federal Bureau of Investigations Agent Lance Roundy wrote in an affidavit for a criminal complaint for the arrest of Joe.

Roundy referred to Morgan in court documents initially as “B.M.M.,” then by “John Doe.” The other identifiers Roundy included were Morgan’s year of birth, 1986, and that he was a Navajo Nation tribal member, as is Joe.

Although Roundy only identified Morgan as “B.M.M.” in court documents, he was identified in his obituary in the Farmington Daily Times. In additional to the correct initials, his obituary states he was born in 1986 and he died on Jan. 3, 2019, all details that match with Roundy’s affidavit. The obituary has been archived here via the Internet Archive and here as a PDF.

Roundy wrote someone interviewed B.M., who said Joe had been texting with Morgan while Morgan and B.M. drank at a Shiprock house. During the evening, Joe texted Morgan that he left work, at Burger King, and wanted to come over.

When Joe showed up, he was drunk and upset about being fired, Roundy wrote.

“Joe continued his tirade about losing his job throughout the evening and at one point, JOE violently struck John Doe in the face with the back of his hand, sending John Doe back towards the wood burning stove,” Roundy wrote, citing the interview with B.M.

Joe tried to attack the prone victim but B.M. punched Joe several times in the head and wrestled him to the ground long enough for Morgan and B.M. to get of the house. Joe locked the door from the inside. Morgan and B.M. could hear him searching through kitchen drawers and cabinets in a “violent” manner, Roundy wrote.

“B.M. then became upset feeling that his home was being invaded, and subsequently ran to the known residence of JOE and broke a window,” Roundy wrote. “B.M. then returned to his residence approximately five minutes later and found John Doe on the ground just outside the door bleeding.”

Joe was standing over Morgan. At some point two other people, identified as “D.T.” and “V.B.” arrived and drove Morgan to the hospital. Navajo police then arrested B.M. for breaking Joe’s window.

Roundy wrote that the Office of the Medical Investigator found that Morgan suffered from 10 “puncture and/or laceration wounds.” He was pronounced dead at the Northern Navajo Medical Center.

Roundy wrote that someone interviewed D.T., who said that he arrived at the house with V.B. and saw Joe kicking Morgan on the ground, outside the house. D.T. got out of the car and pushed Joe back from Morgan, saw he was unresponsive and heard Joe say that Morgan “was stabbed.”

D.T. then kept Joe at a distance and tried to get Morgan to his feet but realized he was bleeding, put him in a car and drove him to the hospital, he wrote.

D.T., who also lived at the house, later realized a kitchen knife was missing from a drawer, Roundy wrote.

V.B. said during an interview that when she arrived with D.T., she did not notice anything in Joe’s hands.

In the plea deal, Joe attested that he initially hit Morgan. B.M. threw Joe down, but eventually Joe locked them out of the house.

“I located a knife in the residence and armed myself with it,” the plea deal states. “A short time later, I exited the residence and confronted John Doe. I started a fight with John Doe and I stabbed John Doe with the knife approximately 10 times in his chest, side and neck.”

In the plea, he admitted that his stabbing caused Morgan’s death.

“While I stabbed John Doe, he begged for me to stop, but I did not,” the plea deal states. “In doing so, I acted with callous and wanton disregard for human life.”

The U.S. Attorney’s Office for New Mexico only published a press release on the case after Joe pleaded guilty and did not publish one after he was arrested.

The Farmington Daily Times first broke the story on January 14, 2019. Joe was charged on Jan. 4.

Below is the affidavit for a criminal complaint filed by Roundy.

 

D.N.M._1_19-cr-03746-JB_1_0 - Zachariah Joe affidavit for CC

 

Plea and possible sentence

On Oct. 31, 2019, Joe pleaded guilty to second-degree murder, before he was indicted by a grand jury. He previously waived his right to a preliminary hearing, on Jan. 9.

Magistrate Judge Kirtan Khalsa deferred acceptance of the plea agreement, according to the plea hearing minutes for the Oct. 31 hearing

The case had been continued multiple times because the prosecution and Joe’s defense attorney, Melissa Morris, were trying to reach a plea in “pre-indictment negotiations,” according to the docket and an Aug. 16 motion to continue the grand jury presentment. The plea was also signed by federal prosecutor David Cowen.

The plea agreement states Joe will receive a sentence of 15 years, although the sentencing judge can decide how much, if any, time Joe should spend on supervised release after serving his sentence. She can also levy a fine.

According to the plea, the possible maximum sentence for second-degree murder is life imprisonment.

The plea agreement states the 15-year sentence considers Joe’s acceptance of responsibility and that 15 years is the “appropriate disposition.”

In the plea agreement, Joe attested that he locked Morgan and B.M. out of the house, he found a knife and then confronted Morgan.

“I started a fight with John Doe and I stabbed John Doe with the knife approximately 10 times in his chest, side and neck. These stab wounds caused John Doe’s death. While I stabbed John Doe, he begged for me to stop, but I did not. In doing so, I acted with callous and wanton disregard for human life.”

Court documents give no indication of future court dates.

See all the documents on Google Drive or view the case and documents on Court Listener.

Jerome Dayzie: Marvin Johnson — 12-9-2017

 

Summary

On Dec. 9, 2017, Jerome Dayzie was driving back from Colorado to his home in Round Rock, Ariz, with his wife, identified as Terra Dayzie, and a friend, Marvin Johnson, 37. Jerome Dayzie, who had a blood-alcohol content of 0.196, crashed into the back of a parked trailer on the side of the road. Johnson was ejected and died at the scene, according to court records.

Jerome Dayzie was initially arrested and charged with involuntary manslaughter, according to court records.

On April 16, 2018, he pleaded guilty to the same charge and on Feb. 26, 2019, District Judge Martha Vazquez sentenced him to the minimum under the sentencing guidelines, just over three years, despite four previous convictions for DUI, according to court records.

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The incident

On Dec. 9, 2017, Jerome Dayzie was driving on BIA/Indian Services/Navajo Route 13, toward his home in Round Rock, Ariz, with his wife and the victim, Marvin Johnson, 37, FBI Agent Kalon Fancher wrote in an affidavit for an arrest warrant.

Butte off of U.S. Highway 191 near Roundrock, Ariz. Photo by Seth Graham/Flickr. CC-BY-NC-ND
Butte off of U.S. Highway 191 near Roundrock, Ariz. Photo by Seth Graham/Flickr. CC-BY-NC-ND

They had driven to Cortez, Colo., to buy beer at the G-Whil liquor store. There, they bought three cases of St. Ides malt liquor, all in 40-ounce bottles. St. Ides has an ABV, or alcohol by volume, of 8.2 percent. They were sharing the liquor as they drove back to Arizona and Jerome Dayzie estimated he drank a whole bottle by himself, he told Fancher in an interrogation, according to Fancher’s affidavit.

Jerome Dayzie said Johnson was the one who wanted to go, Fancher wrote.

After he turned off Highway 491 and onto BIA/Indian Services/Navajo Route 13, the sun was in his face and a car was heading toward him. A trailer was parked “half on the road,” Fancher wrote, summarizing his interview with Jerome Dayzie.

“He stated ‘it’s either I hit the other vehicle or I hit the trailer,'” Fancher wrote. “He stated he hit the end of the trailer and flipped right over.”

According to a sentencing memorandum, his blood-alcohol content was 0.196.

Johnson was in the back seat of Jerome Dayzie’s Ford Explorer when he was ejected from the vehicle.

Jerome Dayzie’s wife, Terra Dayzie (identified as T.D. or Jane Doe-1 in some court records), said Jerome Dayzie drank about half of a 40-ounce bottle, Fancher wrote.

Fancher wrote:

“JANE DOE-1 stated she fell asleep and woke up when DAYZIE hit the back of a trailer parked along the side of the road. JANE DOE-1 stated (V-1) flipped over. She stated JOHN DOE-1 was thrown out of (V-1) and she tried to wake him up but he was not responding.”

When law enforcement arrived, they declared him dead at the scene, he wrote.

In a sentencing memorandum, prosecutor Raquel Ruiz-Velez wrote that the flatbed trailer Jerome Dayzie hit was loaded with furniture.

After crashing into the rear, Jerome Dayzie’s Ford Explorer flipped. Johnson was ejected and pinned under the driver’s side, Ruiz-Velez wrote.

One witness, behind Jerome Dayzie, said his car had been swerving from side to side before it hit the trailer, rolled, and landed on the driver’s side, she wrote.

The owner of the trailer said he and his son were driving to Arizona when they noticed the straps holding the furniture down seemed to be loose. They pulled to the side of the road to check the straps before Jerome Dayzie crashed into the back of the trailer, Ruiz-Velez wrote.

In an amended sentencing memorandum, Jerome Dayzie’s attorney, federal public defender John Butcher, wrote that the trio were “bootlegging” alcohol to the reservation.

According to a deputy field investigation by Tiffany Keaton, with the Office of the Medical Investigator, witnesses told law enforcement that the Explorer “clipped” the left corner of the trailer, causing the trailer to “fork” to the left. The explorer then flipped one and a half times. Johnson was ejected out the passenger-side window before it landed on him. He was not wearing a seat belt.

“Witnesses, were able to pull the vehicle off of Marvin Johnson,” Keaton wrote.

According to the autopsy report, Johnson died from blunt chest trauma.

Fancher filed the for the arrest warrant two days after the crash, on Dec. 11., 2017.

Court proceedings

Pre-trial release

Jerome Dayzie pleaded not guilty, waived a preliminary hearing and a grand jury presentment on Dec. 15, 2017, and federal Magistrate Judge Steven Yarbrough released him to the La Pasada Halfway House in Albuquerque, according to the docket and a response by Ruiz-Velez to a motion to allow Jerome Dayzie to speak to his wife, Terra Dayzie.

Among the conditions of release, Jerome Dayzie was prohibited from speaking to any of the witnesses, his wife included.

Ruiz-Velez wrote that she opposed letting Jerome Dayzie talk to his wife “to assure the integrity of the judicial proceedings against the Defendant.”

In a reply to Ruiz-Velez’s response, Butcher wrote his client had a legitimate need to talk to his wife.

“As mentioned in his Motion, they have four children and a home together,” Butcher wrote. “Thus, there is a need to coordinate the care of the children as well as the household finances.”

According to Fancher’s affidavit, Terra Dayzie told investigators that she fell asleep during the drive and only woke up as the crash was happening.

Yarbrough granted the motion over Ruiz-Velez’s objections.

Plea

On April 16, 2018, after repeatedly waiving his right to a grand jury presentment, Jerome Dayzie pleaded guilty to a criminal information charging him with involuntary manslaughter in front of Magistrate Judge Laura Fashing, who accepted the plea.

According to the plea deal, Jerome Dayzie admitted to killing Johnson while driving drunk.

The plea agreement contained agreement as to the sentence, other than that he was entitled to a reduction of two levels in the federal sentencing guidelines because he pleaded guilty.

Sentencing arguments

Ruiz-Velez wrote in a sentencing memorandum, dated Feb. 7, 2019, that Jerome Dayzie should be sentenced to the high end of the guidelines for his crime, 46 months, or just under four years.

She wrote that he had an offense level of 19 and a criminal history category of III, resulting in a guideline sentence range of 37 months (just over 3 years) to 46 months.

Shiprock. Photo by Bowie Snodgrass/Flickr

She wrote that his blood-alcohol content was extremely high, at 0.196, over double the legal per se limit of 0.08.

His criminal history included five prior arrests for DUI, four of which resulted in convictions, although only two of those were considered to calculate his criminal history category.

“It is troubling that Defendant was sentenced for these two convictions on June 21, 2016 and January 12, 2017, less than two years before the instant offense,” Ruiz-Velez wrote. “Defendant’s convictions show that he was aware of the illegality of his conduct when he decided to drive his vehicle while under the influence of alcohol on December 9, 2017.”

His “past conduct” endangered the lives of others, including his 15-year-old son, she wrote.

Butcher wrote in his own initial sentencing memorandum that Johnson was not a stranger to his killer.

“He was a friend and family member,” Butcher wrote. “The three were drinking together. The alcohol found at the accident was due to the fact that the group was bootlegging alcohol back to the reservation.”

Butcher then wrote that they, as friends, went out drinking together.

“Unfortunately, they decided to drive home while intoxicated,” Butcher wrote. “Mr. Dayzie recognizes the loss caused by John Doe’s death.”

Jerome Dayzie is an electrician and is trying to get the licenses needed to “improve his employment,” although he is currently employed as such.

Butcher wrote:

“More importantly, Mr. Dayzie has taken his drug and alcohol treatment extremely serious. As the Court is aware, Mr. Dayzie has a long history of substance abuse. The defendant has remained totally sober while on Pretrial Conditions of Release. He understands now that when he drinks alcohol, ‘bad things tends to happen.'”

Butcher initially asked for a sentence of two years, which he called a mistake. In an amended sentencing memorandum, Butcher asked for a sentence of 37 months (just over 3 years).

Sentencing

According to the docket and a sentencing minutes sheet, on Feb. 26, 2019, federal District Judge Martha Vazquez sentenced Jerome Dayzie to 37 months, the minimum sentence under the guidelines and the amount requested by his defense attorney.

The minutes do not contain any information about the reasoning behind the judge’s decision.

According to the minutes, Vazquez addressed Jerome Dayzie and then Johnson’s family members addressed Vazquez.

Although Ruiz-Velez was the prosecutor on the case, according to the sentencing minutes, she did not attend or argue for the sentence she requested at his sentencing hearing. Instead, prosecutor Novaline Wilson attended the hearing. Court documents do not state why she was missing.

Jerome Dayzie then spoke to the judge, and then the judge spoke to him again and imposed the sentence, according to the minutes.

She also ordered he pay $1,592.97 to the New Mexico Crime Victim Reparation Commission and $2,448.72 to Johnson’s sister.

In March 2020, Vazquez sentenced another man, Tavis Washburn, to the minimum sentence in different drunk driving case that killed someone. She sentenced Washburn to the minimum allowed under his plea, just under six years, for a crash that killed his brother and severely injured his 2-year-old son. She was not allowed to sentence him to less under his plea.