Zachariah Joe sentenced to 15 years for stabbing death of cousin, per binding plea

• The binding plea deal offered by prosecutor David Cowen mandated a sentence of 15 years
Zacharian Joe stabbed cousin Brett Micah Morgan to death as he begged him to stop

See the full case summary or past stories on the case

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — A federal district court judge sentenced Zachariah Joe to 15 years in prison for fatally stabbing his cousin in Shiprock, after accepting a binding plea agreement.

District Judge James Browning sentenced Joe on Jan. 14, 2021, to 15 years followed by supervised release for three years, according to a sentencing minutes sheet filed eight days after the hearing.

The minutes do not state if anyone spoke at the hearing.

Joe admitted to stabbing his cousin, Brett Micah Morgan, 10 times, although court documents indicate he also kicked him after repeatedly stabbing him. Morgan begged him to stop as Joe stabbed him, according to court documents.

Joe owes $6,546 to his cousin’s family, according to the judgement filed in the case.

He pleaded guilty on Oct. 31, 2019, to a criminal information charging him with second-degree murder for Brett Micah Morgan’s death, offered by federal prosecutor David Cowen. Joe admitted to stabbing Morgan 10 times in the chest and neck.

Multiple family members wrote letters to the judge encouraging him to accept the plea.

The stabbing

On Jan. 3, 2019, Joe showed up at a house where 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.

Photo of Shiprock on a snowy day.
Shiprock in the snow. Photo by Larry Lamsa/Flickr. CC-BY

Joe hit Morgan in the face with the back of his hand, then tried to attack Morgan, on the ground, but B.M. wrestled him to the ground. Morgan and B.M. got out of the house and Joe could be heard searching through kitchen drawers and cabinets. B.M. ran to Joe’s house and broke a window. While he was gone, Joe had stabbed Morgan 10 times, Roundy wrote.

Joe admitted in the plea deal to stabbing Morgan as he begged him to stop.

Another witness, D.T., told Roundy that he saw Joe kicking an unresponsive Morgan, after he had been stabbed, Roundy wrote.

See the full case summary, as well as a more complete narrative of the killing. Read the affidavit for a criminal complaint written by FBI Agent Lance RoundySee all the documents on Google Drive or Document Cloud view the case and documents on Court Listener.

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Continue reading “Zachariah Joe sentenced to 15 years for stabbing death of cousin, per binding plea”

Raylan Reano sentenced to 9 months for probation violation, supervised release terminated

See the case write-up or previous stories

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Raylan Reano will be free from the federal court system after he serves nine months in prison after he admitted to violating the provisions of his supervised release.

Mug shot of Raylan Reano from the Santa Fe County Detention Center
Raylan Reano

Federal District Judge James Parker sentenced Reano, 27, of Zuni, to serve the nine months concurrently, or at the same time as, a sentence in Zuni tribal court, where Reano pleaded guilty to resisting arrest, intoxication, criminal mischief and drug abuse, according to court records.

Reano admitted to violating the conditions of his supervised release, including that he failed to report at a halfway house as ordered and committed more crimes while he was on release, during the Dec. 4, 2020 hearing, according to the minutes.

After Reano serves those nine months, he will be released from the supervised release he was on after serving a two-year sentence for killing his girlfriend in a drunk-driving crash.

Reano killed his girlfriend, Nicky Chavez, 26, in a drunk driving crash on Oct. 23, 2016. Parker sentenced him to two years on March 21, 2019 followed by three years of supervised release, after he previously pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter, a sentence served at the same time as multiple tribal sentences.

It is unclear from court records why Reano will be released early from his sentence of three years supervised release.

During the Dec. 4, 2020 hearing, federal prosecutor Sarah Mease asked that Reano be placed on supervised release. The minutes do not document what his attorney, Aric Elsenheimer, asked of the judge.

Reano’s issues with supervised release started the day the day he got out of prison, Jan. 3, 2020, after he admitted to using methamphetamine and Suboxone and he tested positive for drugs on Jan. 3, 4 and 7, 2020, Probation officer Christopher Fiedler wrote in a petition for a revocation of his supervised release filed March 25, 2020. In March, he was ordered to report to a halfway house, which he did not.

On Aug. 25, 2020, Parker ordered Reano remanded to prison for five months after he admitted to violating the conditions of his release by failing to follow the instructions of his probation officer, failing to reside at a halfway-house after his release and taking drugs, according to a judgement signed by Parker.

After he was released a second time, his probation officer again asked his supervised release be revoked in September after he failed, again, to report to a halfway house. Reano was subsequently arrested on Oct. 28, 2020 and held without bail pending the Dec. 4, 2020 hearing.

The case

According court documents and an autopsy report, on Oct. 23, 2016, Reano, with a blood-alcohol content of 0.365, drove off State Road 53, overcorrected and flipped, ejecting Chavez, killing her.

According to a response to a sentencing memorandum by Mease, witnesses said Reano was driving recklessly and at a “high rate of speed” when he lost control of his car and it rolled. He had a blood-alcohol content level, or BAC, of 0.365, over four times the legal limit of 0.08, and in the area of possible alcohol poisoning, which Mease described as “shockingly high.”

On Nov. 28, 2017, over a year after Raylan Reano killed Chavez, a federal grand jury indicted him on a single charge of involuntary manslaughter. The case was filed with the federal court on Dec. 5, 2017.

On March 23, 2018, just three months after his indictment, Reano pleaded guilty to a single charge of involuntary manslaughter, a deal prepared by prosecutor Sarah Mease and accepted by federal Magistrate Judge Karen Molzen.

There was no agreement in the plea as to sentence, but prosecutors agreed that the judge should reduce Reano sentence by six months because of his six-month sentence in tribal court for killing Chavez, according to the plea.

On March 21, 2019, District Judge James Parker sentenced Reano to two years, the minimum suggested for a level I criminal history after six months was subtracted for time served in tribal jail, and allowed him to serve the sentence at the same time as his convictions in tribal court. That was to be followed by supervised probation for three years, according to the court docket.

See the case documents on Google Drive or Document Cloud.

See the case write-up or previous stories

Continue reading “Raylan Reano sentenced to 9 months for probation violation, supervised release terminated”

Maroquez Clah receives 3-year sentence for fatal crash in San Juan County

  • Judge Kea Riggs sentenced Maroquez Clah to just over 3 years for the fatal DWI crash
  • Clah pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter without a plea deal

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

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Maroquez Clah, 28, of Red Rock, Ariz., received a sentence just over three years for killing Darrell Chavez, 22, in a 2019 drunk driving crash near Mitten Rock, after he pleaded guilty without a plea deal to involuntary manslaughter.

District Judge Kea Riggs ordered Clah,  serve three years on supervised release after he is released from prison when she sentenced him on Dec. 15, 2020, according to minutes from the hearing. He must also pay $4,500 in restitution.

Mitten Rock, off of Navajo Route 13 (Indian Services Route 13), New Mexico. Photo by James St. John/Flickr. CC-BY

Chavez’s father, Kinsey Chavez, addressed the judge through a Navajo interpreter, but what he said is not memorialized in the minutes. Clah also made a statement to the judge.

Riggs gave him two days to turn himself in to begin serving his sentence, according to the minutes.

What sentence Clah’s attorney, Emily Carey, argued for, or what sentence federal prosecutor Novaline Wilson asked for, is unknown as the minutes do not memorialize either of their stances.

No sentencing memorandums appear in the court docket either, although the docket is missing eight entries between when Clah pleaded guilty (entry 37) and the entry of judgement (entry 52)in the case.

Improperly sealed documents appear to be a problem in New Mexico’s federal court, as outlined by Jeff Proctor, writing in New Mexico In Depth. He found a pattern and practice by prosecutors and public defenders to improperly seal documents in federal criminal cases, contrary to local and federal rules on sealing procedures.

Clah had been on pre-trial release pending sentencing in Red Rock, Ariz., where he was taking care of his ailing parents during the pandemic. Magistrate Judge Paul Briones initially ordered Clah stay at a halfway house, despite his need for surgery, medical treatments and his ailing parents needing help. Wilson argued that Clah should have been held without bail indefinitely, over the objections of the probation officer assigned to the case.. Carey appealed Briones’ order to Riggs, who ordered him released on April 20, 2020.

A federal grand jury indicted Clah on the involuntary manslaughter charge on Nov. 25, 2019. It was not entered into the federal court system until Dec. 3, 2019. Clah was not arrested until Feb. 14, 2020. His arrest warrant return was not entered into the online court system.

The crash

FBI Agent Lancy Roundy wrote in a search warrant filed for Clah’s truck on Sept. 4, 2019, that Clah told federal investigators, while in the hospital, he had been drinking alcohol throughout the day prior to driving from Farmington to his home in Red Valley, Arizona. Chavez is referred to as “John Doe” in court records.

“Clah recalled John Doe being a passenger of his vehicle at some point during the drive,” Roundy wrote. “Clah admitted to drinking vodka approximately six hours prior to driving his vehicle home and remembered losing control of the vehicle while driving approximately 70 miles per hour before the vehicle rolled several times.”

Roundy wrote that, according to Clah’s hospital records from his treatment after the crash, his blood-alcohol content was 0.258, over three times the legal limit of 0.08.

According to Chavez’s autopsy report, he was not wearing a seatbelt and was ejected from the truck during the crash.

Continue reading “Maroquez Clah receives 3-year sentence for fatal crash in San Juan County”

Jodie Martinez sentenced to 2 years for 2019 Zuni crash that killed son, injured woman

  • Judge Kea Riggs sentenced Jodie Martinez to the maximum, two years, under a plea deal she accepted
  • Jodie Martinez pleaded guilty for a crash she caused, killing her son and severely injured a woman on July 6, 2019
  • Prosecutor Raquel Ruiz-Velez gave her a plea deal for a sentence of 18 months to 2 years
  • Ruiz-Velez wanted two years while the defense asked for 18 months, a difference of six months
  • After being released to attend her son’s funeral, she tested positive for methamphetamine when she came back to the jail, prosecutors wrote
  • She smuggled meth back into the jail after the furlough for the funeral, prosecutors wrote

See the case write-up or read past stories on this case

ZUNI, N.M. — Jodie Martinez received a two-year sentence, followed by supervised release for three years, for killing her 9-year-old son and severely injuring a woman in a drug-related head-on crash in 2019.

Federal District Judge Kea Riggs accepted the binding plea deal, proffered by prosecutor Raquel Ruiz-Velez, that set Martinez’s sentence at 18 months to two years, for aggravated assault resulting in serious bodily injury, and dropped a charge of involuntary manslaughter for killing her son.

Mug shot of Jodie Martinez from the Santa Fe County Detention Center
Jodie Martinez/Santa Fe County Detention Center

Riggs sentenced Martinez, 33, of Zuni, during a virtual hearing, Nov. 20, 2020, and said there will be a “zero-tolerance policy for substance abuse” during her three years of supervised release following her release from person, according to a minutes sheet.

The minutes do not indicate if any victims, either a woman only identified as “Mrs. Sweeney,” or 9-year-old Christian Molina‘s father, Samuel Molina, said anything during the sentencing hearing. Samuel Molina sued Martinez over the life insurance payout.

Although Martinez will get credit for the 304 days she spent in jail since she was charged in federal court, she will not receive credit for the 91 days she spent in a tribal jail, Riggs ordered.

Ruiz-Velez had been asking for two years, the maximum allowed in a plea deal she offered. Martinez’s defense attorney, Mallory Gagan, is asking for the minimum sentence under the deal, 18 months, even though prosecutors wrote Martinez smuggled methamphetamine into a jail following a furlough to attend her son’s funeral and use of methamphetamine while on furlough from jail. Martinez also has a pending case of vehicle embezzlement in state court in Santa Fe.

On Aug. 3, 2020, Martinez pleaded guilty to a single charge of assault resulting in serious bodily injury. Federal Magistrate Judge Laura Fashing accepted the plea but deferred final acceptance until sentencing in front of a district court judge. Prosecutor Raquel Ruiz-Velez dropped a second charge, of involuntary manslaughter, brought by the grand jury that indicted her, despite her continued drug use after her arrest and apparent smuggling of drugs into the tribal jail.

Acceptance of the plea, and dropping the charge of involuntary manslaughter, was a decision left up to Riggs, who accepted it.

Sentencing memos

In her sentencing memorandum, Ruiz-Velez wrote there were evidentiary issues with the case. While prosecutors allege Martinez was high on methamphetamine when she crashed, and she tested positive for the drug after she crashed, she never admitted to getting high the day of the crash, four days before. She wrote:

“The drug test revealed that Defendant had methamphetamine in her system. Id. According to investigative reports, ‘the swabs used to drug test [Defendant] were sent to the Las Cruces Forensic Laboratory weeks later in an effort to determine the amount of methamphetamine [Defendant] had in her system.’ DBN 749. The swab samples were analyzed, but there were no ‘indications of any drug on them.’ DBN 751. However, the fact that drugs could not be identified ‘does not mean that no drugs were present,’ it is just that the forensic scientist could not ‘detect them.’ DBN 750. Although the evidence shows that Defendant was under the influence of methamphetamine, the level of methamphetamine in Defendant’s system could not be detected.”

Martinez brought methamphetamine back into the Zuni tribal jail after she was released to attend her son’s funeral. She tested positive for methamphetamine prior to being released and three days later when she returned, Ruiz-Velez wrote.

She also smuggled methamphetamine into the jail, later found wrapped in a soap wrapper, Ruiz-Velez wrote.

Ruiz-Velez wrote a two-year sentence is appropriate because it would fall within the normal sentencing guidelines for the charge she pleaded guilty to: assault resulting in serious bodily injury, even though if she had pleaded to involuntary manslaughter or both charges, her sentence guideline would be higher.

Martinez’s attorney, Gagan, is asking for the minimum sentence, 18 months, and that Martinez not be required to go into in-patient drug rehabilitation.

Martinez started work at the Ohkay Owingeh Housing Authority in 2007 and stayed for 10 years and even gave a TED talk about the restoration of the pueblo buildings. In 2017, she lost her job due to “tribal politics, — certain powerful individuals in the community did not want her, not an enrolled tribal member, to have the position,” Gagan wrote.

After she lost her job, her marriage “crumbled” and she left her children with her husband and moved in with her cousin and started using cocaine, and then methamphetamine.

“She just never quite got back on her feet,” Gagan wrote.

Sentencing guidelines

If Martinez had pleaded to the charge of involuntary manslaughter, been found guilty of it, or pleaded to both involuntary manslaughter and the assault charge, her sentencing guidelines would have put her sentence at a lot longer than just two years.

The sentencing guidelines put involuntary manslaughter at a “base level” of 22. A plea deal reduces that by three points, bringing what would have been her level down to 19.

Involuntary manslaughter involving a the reckless operation of a means of transportation carries a higher base level than other forms of involuntary manslaughter.

With a sentence range of 19, the guidelines put her sentence at 2 1/2 to 3 years, assuming little or no criminal history.

Martinez has a pending case in Santa Fe District Court on a charge of embezzlement of a motor vehicle.

The crash

See more details of the crash in the case write-up

According to the plea deal and an affidavit for a search warrant, Martinez crashed head-on into car driving the opposite direction on July 6, 2019, on State Highway 53, outside of Zuni.  A unidentified woman in the other vehicle, a truck, suffered severe injuries and medics flew her to Albuquerque for treatment. When Zuni Police Department officers arrived at the crash, Molina was dead and either lying next to her Ford Explorer or being held by her.

The unidentified woman suffered a fractured vertebrae, multiple rib fractures and other “bone fractures and injuries,” according to the plea.

Martinez told the officers who responded to the crash that she fell asleep at the wheel. In a subsequent interrogation, she told agents that her cell phone fell, she reached down to pick it up and that’s when she crashed. In an interview with Agent David Loos, both Martinez and her boyfriend allegedly admitted to using methamphetamine at least four days before the accident.

Continue reading “Jodie Martinez sentenced to 2 years for 2019 Zuni crash that killed son, injured woman”

Isaias Lobato-Rodriguez sentenced to 15 years for killing Florida woman in Hachita

Isaias Lobato-Rodriguez received 15 years for strangling Connie Lopez
• A jury previously found him guilty of second-degree murder, a lesser-included offense of first-degree murder

Read the case write-up catch up on the past stories

DEMING, N.M. — Isaias Lobato-Rodriguez received the maximum sentence for strangling a woman outside Hatchita in 2017, after spending over three years in jail awaiting trial.

Mug shot of Isaias Lobato-Rodriguez, convicted of second-degree murder for the death of Connie Lopez, 57, of Lake Placid, Fla. 4x5 ratio
Isaias Lobato-Rodriguez

A jury found him guilty of the second-degree murder of Connie Lopez, 57, of Lake Placid, Fla., following a four-day trial that ended Aug. 20, 2020. They deliberated for just an hour. He was charged in district court with first-degree murder.

During a hearing on Nov. 2, 2020, District Judge Jarod Hofacket sentenced Lobato-Rodriguez to 15 years in prison, the maximum sentence for second-degree murder in New Mexico.

Hofacket gave Lobato-Rodriguez credit for the 3 years, 7 months and 17 days he spent in jail before trial, lowering the amount of time he will have to serve to 11 years, 4 months and 14 days, according to a judgement and sentence.

Lobato-Rodriguez is appealing his conviction and a notice of appeal was filed on Nov. 23, 2020. He is being represented by the appellate division of the Law Office of the Public Defender.

Mistrial motion denied

Lobato-Rodriguez’s attorney, George Harrison, previously asked for a reconsideration of the guilty verdict on three grounds:

  • An improper comment by prosecutor Matthew Bradburn, during opening statement over Lobato-Rodriguez asserting his right to remain silent, citing the 2007 case State v. Rodriguez.
  • A failure to correct an improper translation in which Lobato-Rodriguez mumbled that he thought the victim told him he would “be dead that day.”
  • The denial of a previous motion to suppress, previously denied twice by the judge.

Hofacket denied that motion to reconsider, noting that he had previously been asked to consider each of the motions individually and previously denied all three.

The judge took issue with assertion by Harrison that Lobato-Rodriguez used the phrase “be dead that day.” He wrote:

“The interpreter informed the Court that she had heard the Defendant say something along the lines of ‘because you’ll be dead’ in reference to why he would not see the mountain again. She stated that she did not understand what he said and asked him to repeat his response. When he repeated his response, he did not make that statement.
In reviewing the Defendant’s trial testimony, this interaction did not occur. The Court is at a loss to explain why the court appointed interpreter would assert that it did. All of the testimony regarding the mountain, on direct and on cross is transcribed (unofficially from the audio recording) above.”

Hofacket wrote that the blame appears to fall with Harrison, when the interpreter was questioned by the judge and the two attorneys. He wrote:

“Defense counsel stated that it was his understanding that the victim said ‘you’re going to be dead.’ Only then did the interpreter change her testimony from the direct response to the Court’s question and said that she did hear the Defendant say something along the lines that he was going to be dead, but that he mumbled, so she asked for the Defendant to repeat himself.
This did not occur and the interpreter’s recollection of the trial testimony is incorrect.”

Continue reading “Isaias Lobato-Rodriguez sentenced to 15 years for killing Florida woman in Hachita”

Supreme Court upholds Ameer Muhammad’s conviction for 2017 ABQ stabbing death

• The New Mexico Supreme Court upheld Ameer Muhammad‘s conviction on felony murder
• The justices rejected arguments that Muhammad’s mental illness prevented him from waiving his Miranda rights
• He received a mandatory life sentence, with parole after 30 years.

See the full case write-up or previous stories about this case

SANTA FE, N.M. — The New Mexico Supreme Court unanimously upheld the felony murder conviction of Muhammad Ameer, 26, who stabbed Aaron Sieben to death in 2017.

The justices rejected his defense attorney’s arguments, that District Court Judge Jacqueline Flores refusal to suppress Muhammad’s statement to the police and not allowing a self-defense instruction made the case worthy of a new trial.

Ameer Muhammad

Defense attorney Steven Forsberg wrote in the appeal that the statement should have been suppressed because Muhammad was “in the grips of severe mental illness” when he made the waiver of his Miranda rights and gave a statement to detectives.

Justice Barbara Vigil wrote in the opinion for the court that Flores rejected the initial argument to suppress the statement, “stating that without more information about Defendant’s apparent delusions there was not enough to conclude that those delusions impacted Defendant’s ability to waive his rights.”

She did not, however, address if it was made “knowingly and intelligently.”

In challenging the unsuppressed statement, Forsberg wrote that the Flores used the wrong legal standard to determine if it needed to be suppressed.

Vigil wrote that the defense argued that Muhammad thought it was pointless to exercise his right not to speak to detectives because he had delusions that they would hear his thoughts and therefore they already knew everything. She wrote:

“The recording of the interview at the MDC demonstrates that Defendant’s mental illness did not affect his understanding of his rights but rather his motivation for not exercising those rights. No other evidence was presented concerning Defendant’s claimed diagnosis of schizophrenia or its effect on his ability to comprehend his rights. Because the record otherwise supports the district court’s findings that Defendant was cogent and could accurately articulate his rights and the consequences of abandoning them, the totality of the circumstances demonstrates that Defendant’s waiver was knowing and intelligent.”

As for the argument that a self-defense instruction should have been given, there was no evidence that the Sieben, 30, ever had a weapon, even if he struck first.

“We have held that evidence of a simple battery against a defendant is insufficient for a reasonable jury to find that the defendant acted reasonably by responding with deadly force,” Vigil wrote, before quoting State v. Lucero, a 2010 case, which in turn quotes a 1996 case, State v. Duarte.

There was not enough evidence to support a self defense claim, she wrote.

The case

On July 27, 2018, a jury found Ameer, 26, guilty of felony murder and armed robbery, although the latter charge was dropped as the predicate felony for felony murder. The jury acquitted him on a charge of tampering with evidence.

According to court documents, victim Aaron Sieben and Ameer allegedly got into some kind of argument while Sieben was in his truck on March 19, 2017, parked at a Circle K gas station in Albuquerque.

After Ameer allegedly fled from Sieben, Sieben pursued him, leading to a fist fight. As the fight progressed, Ameer allegedly produced a knife and stabbed Sieben two to three times. After stabbing Sieben, Ameer allegedly took his wallet. Sieben died at the scene and Ameer allegedly fled, only to be arrested shortly thereafter.

District Judge Jacqueline Flores sentenced Ameer to life in prison, which is a term of 30 years, on Sept. 25, 2018, according to court documents.

Continue reading “Supreme Court upholds Ameer Muhammad’s conviction for 2017 ABQ stabbing death”

Mansoor Karimi asks for new sentence after 8 years imposed in remote hearing

Mansoor Karimi is asking for a sentence reconsideration after District Judge Mary Marlowe-Sommer gave him eight years
A jury found him guilty of two counts of vehicular homicide by reckless driving
• The reconsideration comes after he was sentenced by video conference
• Karimi’s attorney argued the First Judicial District Attorney’s Office offered disparate pleas for similar charges

Read the case write-up

SANTA FE, N.M. — After receiving eight years in prison for the deaths of two men following a reckless driving crash, Mansoor Karimi‘s attorney is asking for less prison time because he was sentenced over video and prosecutors have offered more lenient pleas and sentences for “worse driving behavior than committed by the Defendant.”

Mansoor Karimi

On Feb. 18, 2020, a jury found Mansoor Karimi, 42, guilty on two counts of vehicular homicide by reckless driving for the deaths of Ian Sweatt, 33, and Christopher Bryant, 30, after he T-boned their car on Dec. 16, 2016, according to jury verdict slips.

On July 17, 2020, District Judge Mary Marlowe-Sommer sentenced Karimi to eight years in prison and suspended an additional four years, of a possible 12-year sentence, which he will spend on supervised probation, according to a judgement and sentence.

According to Phaedra Haywoood of the Santa Fe New Mexican, Marlowe-Sommer told Karimi, before she sentenced him, he was driving too fast, “blew through a stop sign” and that the crash was avoidable.

She sentenced Karimi to four years for the death of Sweatt and four years for the death of Bryant. He received credit for five months time served.

Karimi’s attorney, Tom Clark, filed a motion to reconsider the sentence on Aug. 18, 2020. He wrote that Karimi should have been sentenced in person, as his sentence could have been so high because the video feed affected Marlowe-Sommer’s ability to “fully assess” his remorsefulness

“That the absence of any degree of humanity, in a proceeding done entirely by video and audio, affects the ability of the Court to impose a sentence consistence with a just and fair sentence,” Clark wrote.

Clark previously asked the case be moved to the July date so Karimi could be sentenced in person. Marlowe-Sommer continued it to then. She noted that it was anticipated that in-court hearings could be held by then.

On July 7, Marlowe-Sommer designated the sentencing hearing as being held remotely, citing Supreme Court Order 20-8500-025, which requires all hearing, except for jury trials, be done remotely, unless the judge finds a “compelling need” to physically appear.

“There is nothing that cannot be communicated through audio-video connection by Defendant and counsel, and by audio-video or telephonic connection by the victims or any other persons,” she wrote. “The particular circumstances of this case fail to demonstrate a compelling need for an in person sentencing hearing.”

Clark wrote in his motion that he believed Karimi’s due process rights were violated by the “impersonal, constraining, and awkward presentation of his sentencing argument by video.”

“Defendant asserts that this potentially is a reason that contributed to the sentence in this case which exceeded the seven (7) year sentence requested by the State,” Clark wrote.

Clark wrote in his motion that Mansoor also deserved to have his sentence reconsidered because prosecutors with the First Judicial District Attorney’s Office treated Mansoor differently than the defendant in a similar case.

“Additionally, a few weeks after Mr. Karimi was sentenced, the State, by and through a different Assistant District Attorney presented this Court with a plea to a misdemeanor sentence in a case involving vehicular homicide by reckless driving, alleging worse driving behavior than was committed by the Defendant while Mr. (Kent) Wahlquist requested less than the maximum sentence, no such pre-trial resolution was ever offered to Mr. Karimi,” Clark wrote.

Judge's portrait
District Judge Mary Marlowe-Sommer

Clark appears to be referring to the case of Ryan Palma, charged with vehicular homicide and leaving the scene of an accident for the death of a 20-year-old motorcyclist. A grand jury indicted Palma on charges of vehicular homicide by reckless driving, knowingly leaving the scene of an accident causing death, tampering with evidence and failure to give immediate notice of accidents.

Haywood reported on Palma’s case and that Marlowe-Sommer rejected a plea deal, July 31, 2020, where Palma would plead no contest to knowingly leaving the scene of an accident and have all the other charges dropped.

Haywood wrote that prosecutor Julie Gallardo said her office was offering Palma a plea of no contest to knowingly leaving the scene of the accident and all the other charges would be dismissed. The proposed plea deal for Palma does not appear in court records and it is not clear if the offer was for the misdemeanor form of leaving the scene of an accident or the felony form.

Clark wrote in Karimi’s case that his client was only offered a plea with no agreement as to sentence. He went on to write:

“It is at best, an arbitrary and unfair charging decision against an individual without a valid explanation. Such non-uniform plea policies, varying drastically from one prosecutor to the next, are inherently unfair, and raise troubling questions about the charging decision in case;

While the Court rejected the plea, it certainly appears that justice, by way of plea policies, has less to do with the facts of any particular case and more to do with the individual prosecutor, or the individual charged. It is not about the facts of the case.”

No new hearing has been set in the case.

Continue reading “Mansoor Karimi asks for new sentence after 8 years imposed in remote hearing”

Zuni man sentenced to 5 months for probation violation

Raylan Reano waived an evidentiary hearing
• District Judge James Parker ordered him back to prison for five months
• Reano killed girlfriend Nicky Chavez in a drunk driving crash in 2016

See the case write-up

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Raylan Reano will spend the next five months in prison after a judge ordered him back, Aug. 25, 2020, after he was initially released on supervised probation after serving a two-year sentence for killing his girlfriend in a drunk driving crash.

Mug shot of Raylan Reano from the Santa Fe County Detention Center
Raylan Reano

Reano, 27, admitted to violating the conditions of his release by failing to follow the instructions of his probation officer, failing to reside at a halfway-house after his release and taking drugs, according to a judgement signed by District Judge James Parker.

Reano killed his girlfriend, Nicky Chavez, 26, in a drunk driving crash on Oct. 23, 2016. He received a two-year sentence after pleading guilty to involuntary manslaughter.

Reano faced a maximum sentence of nine additional months for the probation violations, according to federal court documents.

Reano pleaded guilty on March 13, 2018, to a single count of involuntary manslaughter and a year later, Parker sentenced Reano to two years in federal prison, to be served at the same time as three tribal sentences, followed by supervised release for three years. One of those tribal sentences was for escaping from jail.

Reano’s probation officer,  Christopher Fiedler, reported problems with Reano as soon as he was initially released, on Jan. 3, 2020, and that Reano admitted to using drugs before even leaving prison, according to court documents.

In the original petition filed March 25, 2020, Fielder alleged Reano admitted to using methamphetamine and Suboxone and he tested positive for drugs on Jan. 3, 4 and 7, 2020.

In the second amended petition filed May 18, 2020, Fiedler wrote Reano tested positive for cocaine on March 20, 2020 and admitted to using cocaine in a subsequent interview. A drug testing sweat patch, applied on April 17, showed positive results for THC, the chemical in marijuana.

The case

To read more about the crash, the plea, or the arguments over sentencing, please read the case write-up.

According court documents and an autopsy report, on Oct. 23, 2016, Reano, with a blood-alcohol content of 0.365, drove off State Road 53, overcorrected and flipped, ejecting Chavez, killing her.

According to a response to a sentencing memorandum by prosecutor Sarah Mease, witnesses said Reano was driving recklessly and at a “high rate of speed” when he lost control of his car and it rolled. He had a blood-alcohol content level, or BAC, of 0.365, over four times the legal limit of 0.08, and in the area of possible alcohol poisoning, which Mease described as “shockingly high.”

Continue reading “Zuni man sentenced to 5 months for probation violation”

Kasey Weaver asks for a sentence reduction in DWI homicide

Kasey Weaver killed boyfriend Kit Francis II in a drunk car crash in 2017
• She wants the judge to reconsider her sentence because of her record and good behavior

See the case write-up

SANTA FE, N.M. — Kasey Weaver asked the judge who sentenced her to eight years in prison, followed by five years of supervised probation, to rethink that sentence.

Kasey Weaver

In a hand-written motion on May 14, 2020, Weaver, 27, of Albuquerque, noted she has no prior convictions and, since being sent to prison, has not received any discipline.

“Further, I have been enrolled in multiple programs starting with Matrix in Santa Fe County Jail, Sober Living shortly after my transfer to Springer Womens Facility, and most recently with the completion of the Residential Drug Abuse Treatment Program on the 27th of March, 2020,” Weaver wrote.

Attached to the motion are a series of certificates noting the programs she completed.

No hearings have been set and no other entries appear on the court docket.

Weaver and her boyfriend, Kit Francis II, 24, were driving from Santa Fe to Albuquerque after drinking at Meow Wolf on April 16, 2017 when Weaver crashed into a car after she tried to stop at a red light at Cerrillos Road, before the exit to the I-25 interstate.

She was arrested initially for DUI great bodily harm. Francis, who was not wearing a seat belt, was ejected from the car and died later at an Albuquerque hospital.

A jury found her guilty of DUI vehicular homicide on Nov. 16, 2018. On April 19, 2019,  District Judge Mary Marlowe Sommer sentenced Weaver to eight years in prison followed by five years of supervised probation. Weaver faced a maximum sentence of 15 years.

According to the Albuquerque Journal, many of Francis’s family members attended the sentencing hearing, including the mother of Francis’ 6-year-old daughter, who spoke of her daughter’s struggles with her father’s death.

Most of Francis’ relatives asked for the maximum sentence, 15 years, while Kit Francis Sr. asked for her to “do enough time so that she gets it and understands,” according to the Albuquerque Journal.

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Continue reading “Kasey Weaver asks for a sentence reduction in DWI homicide”

Santa Fe man sentenced to 12 years for fatal DWI crash

Editor’s Note: This story published late, eight months after sentencing, because court records were not previously available.

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SANTA FE, N.M. — Paulo Vega-Mendoza will spend 12 years in prison for crashing into motorcyclist Paul Padilla and killing him, in 2017.

Paulo Vega-Mendoza

District Court Judge T. Glenn Ellington sentenced Vega-Mendoza, 25, of Santa Fe, to 12 years followed by three years of supervised probation on Sept. 27, 2019. He had previously pleaded guilty to a single count of DWI vehicular homicide on April 29, 2019, under a plea signed by prosecutor Blake Nichols.

Ellington gave Vega-Mendoza credit for 792 days served, just over two years, for time spent in jail and on electronic monitoring prior sentencing.

Vega-Mendoza ran into the back of Padilla’s motorcycle, April 15, 2017, on Airport Road in Santa Fe. He fled from the scene and then crashed his own car, a Dodge Neon. It landed on its hood.

Witnesses, and then officers, allegedly chased Vega-Mendoza on foot before he tried to climb and fence and it broke, throwing him backward.

Padilla, 63,  died from extensive brain injuries on April 25, 2017.

For more details, please see the summary of the case.

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Continue reading “Santa Fe man sentenced to 12 years for fatal DWI crash”

Judge gives drunk driver 6 years for killing woman, injuring her two children

  • Mateo Maestas received a 6-year sentence, although prosecutors wanted the max, 8 years, while the defense asked for the minimum, 5 years
  • The judge gave Maestas 60 days of release before going to prison
  • Maestas was arrested a month later for a host of violations, including drinking, and sent to prison

See the case write-up

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Mateo Maestas will spend six years in prison after a federal District Court judge sentenced him for killing a Laguna Pueblo woman, and severely injured her two children, in a drunk driving crash.

Federal District Judge Dee Benson

Federal District Judge Dee Benson sentenced Maestas, 22, of Cuba, on Jan. 23, 2020 during a 90-minute hearing in federal District Court in Albuquerque.

Maestas, a member of the Acoma Pueblo, previously pleaded guilty to a charge of involuntary manslaughter on Sept. 9, 2019.  According to the plea deal accepted by federal Magistrate Judge Laura Fashing, prosecutors agreed to a sentence range of five to eight years, called a binding plea. He was originally charged on April 18, 2019, arrested on May 22 and released pending trial on May 29.

Involuntary manslaughter carries a maximum sentence of eight years, although prosecutor Elisa Dimas claimed he could have faced a much greater sentence, without the plea, for the injuries he caused the woman’s children.

Benson gave Maestas, who had been released to house arrest on May 29, 2019, pending the outcome of his case, 60 days to turn himself into to prison to start serving his sentence, according to the minute sheet.

A month later, he was wanted on a warrant for allegedly violating the conditions of his release.

According to the sentencing minute sheet, Dimas asked for an 8-year sentence during the hearing and Maestas’ defense attorney, Britany Schaffer, asked for a 5-year sentence.

Continue reading “Judge gives drunk driver 6 years for killing woman, injuring her two children”

Judge gives Sanostee man minimum sentence for brother’s death in DWI crash

  • Tavis Washburn will spend just under six years in prison for killing his brother and injuring his 2-year-old son in the crash
  • The binding plea deal mandated a sentence of 6 to 10 years and without it, Washburn faced a minimum mandatory sentence of 10 years
  • He had a blood-alcohol level of 0.258 when he crashed, over three times the legal limit, while driving 79-85 mph
  • A judge sent Washburn back to jail, prior to sentencing, after he began drinking excessively at a halfway house

Read the full case write-up here

SANTA FE, N.M. — Tavis Washburn will spend just under six years in prison after a federal District Court judge sentenced him to the minimum allowed under a plea deal for killing his brother in drunk driving crash.

District Court Judge Martha Vazquez sentenced Washburn, 27, on March 13, 2020, to 71 months in prison, just under six years.

According to court documents, the crash killed Orlando Wadsworth, 37, of Sanostee, severely injured Washburn’s 2-year-old son and injured a third man, only identified as A.J., driving the truck Washburn hit, on Feb. 15, 2018. Wadsworth had to be extricated from the passenger seat of the red Kia Washburn was driving. Although he was flown to a hospital, he died from his injuries. Washburn had a blood-alcohol level of 0.258 after the crash.

Washburn previously pleaded guilty in front of Magistrate Judge Kirtan Khalsa on July 12, 2019, who deferred final acceptance of the plea until sentencing in front of Vazquez, during a 27-minute hearing, according to minutes from the plea hearing.

Federal Bureau of Investigations Agent Kalon Fancher charged Washburn 10 months after the crash, on Oct. 24, 2018. On Nov. 13, 2018, federal Magistrate Judge Jerry Ritter ordered Washburn released on pretrial release at a halfway house in Albuquerque. Washburn was later arrested sometime after Dec. 2, 2019, after he was found, twice, to have been heavily drinking.

Federal prosecutor Allison Jaros did not request a specific sentence, other than within the range of six to 10 years allowed under the plea deal, while Washburn’s attorney, Alejandro Fernandez, asked for the minimum in a sentencing memorandum dated Oct. 21, 2019.

According to the sentencing minute sheet, Washburn addressed the court, as did the “Victim’s representative.” The entire hearing lasted one hour and two minutes. Neither the minutes nor the judgement state why Vazquez sentenced Washburn to the minimum allowed under the binding plea deal, or why she accepted the binding plea deal.

Continue reading “Judge gives Sanostee man minimum sentence for brother’s death in DWI crash”

Maroquez Clah: Darrell Chavez — 8-30-2019

 

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Summary

On Aug. 30, 2019, Maroquez Clah, of Red Valley, Arizona, allegedly killed Darrell Chavez, 22, an enrolled Navajo Nation man when he lost control of his truck and rolled it on Navajo Route 13/Indian Services Route 13 near Mitten Rock, New Mexico, within the boundaries of the Navajo Nation reservation, in San Juan county. Chavez is only identified in court records by the initials D.C. and the year of birth of 1997. Clah is also an enrolled Navajo Nation member.

A federal grand jury indicted him on Nov. 25, 2019 and he was arrested on February 14, 2020, before being released a week later to a halfway house. He has since been released to his family in Red Vallely, Ariz.

On Sept. 21, 2020, he pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter without a plea deal.

On Dec. 15, 2020, District Judge Kea Riggs sentenced Clah to just over three years (37 months) followed by three years on supervised release after he is released from prison.

 

The incident

A search warrant filed for Clah’s truck on Sept. 4, 2019, by Federal Bureau of Investigations Agent Lancy Roundy, gives a few details on the crash.

Mitten Rock, off of Navajo Route 13 (Indian Services Route 13), New Mexico. Photo by James St. John/Flickr

Clah told federal investigators, while in the hospital, he had been drinking alcohol throughout the day prior to driving from Farmington to his home in Red Valley, Arizona, in a 2007 Ford F-150 truck.

“Clah recalled John Doe being a passenger of his vehicle at some point during the drive,” Roundy wrote. “Clah admitted to drinking vodka approximately six hours prior to driving his vehicle home and remembered losing control of the vehicle while driving approximately 70 miles per hour before the vehicle rolled several times.”

According to Clah’s hospital records from his treatment after the crash, his blood-alcohol content was 0.258, over three times the legal limit of 0.08.

It is not clear how the agents obtained the medical records. The only unsealed search warrant for the case, between the time of the crash and Sept. 4, 2019, is Roundy’s.

Clah suffered a broken leg and “other injuries,” Roundy wrote.

Roundy wrote he wanted to search the truck for physical evidence of alcohol consumption, including bottles, receipts and cans, as well as take pictures of the truck.

Autopsy

Pathologist Heather Jarrell wrote in the autopsy report that Chavez was not wearing a seatbelt and was ejected from the truck during the crash.

She described his death as a result of multiple blunt-force injuries.

Pretrial release

Magistrate judge denies move request during coronavirus pandemic

On April 1, federal Magistrate Judge Paul Briones denied Clah’s request to move from a halfway house in Albuquerque to his parents’ home in Red Valley, filed March 23. Briones did not have a hearing and instead relied on the emergency motion filed by Clah’s attorney, Emily Carey, and the opposition filed under seal by prosecutor Novaline Wilson. However, Wilson’s filing under seal appears to be against court rules on sealing documents, which require a judge’s consent and are only supposed to be done for very good reasons.

Panoramic photo of Red Valley, Arizona, with no buildings in sight.
Red Valley, about a mile west of the New Mexico state line, 36.5850 -109.0712, Apache County, Arizona, 5/17/2014. Photo by Patrick Alexander/Flickr. CC BY-NC-SA

According to the local rules and federal court 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.

Carey filed an appeal of Briones’ order on April 6, but no further documents or hearings have been docketed in the case.

She wrote in the initial motion that Briones, during the arraignment, said if Clah “performed well” at the halfway house, he would consider “possible modification” the conditions of his release. The current conditions restrict his travel to Bernalillo county. The minutes contain no details of what was said.

Wilson opposed Clah’s release pending trial during the arraignment, while pretrial officers suggested release, according to the minutes.

Carey wrote that Clah’s father is on dialysis and his health has recently declined and his mother, Bessie Begay, contacted her to say that his father has “developed something akin to dementia.”

Before being arrested, Clah “took on all of the household tasks and helped his mother with his father’s health care.” He also took care of his 4-year-old daughter, who is now in Begay’s custody, she wrote.

Clah’s doctors are also in Shiprock and Farmington, closer to Red Valley than to Albuquerque. If he were allowed to return to Red Valley, he could also continue his work at Yazzie Oil Field Service. Allowing him to move back in with his parents would remove him from a communal living situation and possible infection by the coronavirus, Carey wrote.

Federal pretrial services in Arizona conducted a home assessment and said it would take responsibility for Clah’s supervision, she wrote.

According to Carey’s reply to Wilson’s sealed opposition, Clah has one prior tribal conviction for drunk driving in 2018. He was sentenced to 90 days supervised probation, which he completed.

That prior DWI conviction appears to be the basis of Wilson’s opposition to Clah taking care of his elderly father, helping his mother and parenting his child. Wilson also argues, according to Carey, that the global pandemic is not a “changed circumstance.” However, because Wilson appears to have improperly sealed her opposition, it is not clear if she had any more arguments.

Carey wrote:

“At this point, concerns pertaining to COVID-19 and the risk of communal living are not merely speculative. Moreover, even if he was required to present evidence of changed circumstances, Mr. Clah submits that he has met his burden given his exemplary conduct while on pretrial release, the deterioration in his father’s physical and mental health, the inability to access medical providers including his surgeon for urgent follow up care, and concerns for his own health and the health of his family because of COVID-19.”

Briones denied Carey’s motion because his “pattern of prior conduct” and that Carey didn’t show that there are “sufficient safeguards” to protect the community from the risk of Clah drinking and driving, if he isn’t living at the halfway house.

In Carey’s April 6 appeal, she wrote that Clah’s father has repeatedly fallen, following his descent in what appears to be dementia, and has been admitted to the hospital on suspicion of internal bleeding. Begay cannot stay with her husband at the hospital because of the risk of the coronavirus.

Clah would not have access to a car while living with his parents. His mother has a vehicle, but it’s provided by her work, she wrote.

Carey wrote:

“Mr. Clah’s physical movements are restricted by his own physical injuries for which he requires ongoing treatment. Moreover, at present, the entire Navajo Nation has imposed a curfew from 8:00 p.m. to 5:00 a.m., which is enforced by law enforcement personnel issuing citations and roadblocks. However, should the Court be concerned with Mr. Clah’s movement, he would be willing to submit to electronic monitoring under home detention or any other condition the court deems appropriate.”

Clah’s pretrial officer is still supports his request to move back to Red Valley, she wrote.

Whenever Clah speaks to his daughter on the phone, “she often cries and begs for him,” Carey wrote. “He is extremely concerned about the effect this separation is having on her, and worried about the burden his absence is putting on his mother.”

Begay also wrote a letter to the court.

District judge releases Clah to Arizona

District Court Judge Kea Riggs granted Maroquez Clah’s appeal on April 20, 2020, and ordered him released.

In her order releasing Clah, Riggs wrote his medical and physical condition weighed toward his release, especially because he needed surgery on his leg, which is infected and that the halfway house stated they could not take care of his medical needs after he is released from the hospital.

She also found that, contrary to Briones’ opinion, the Clah has no access to a vehicle, the only way he poses a danger to the community.

“Given that Defendant has a history of compliance with conditions of release or probation, and lacks access to a vehicle, the Court agrees with Pretrial Services’ recommendation and concludes that these conditions will reasonably assure the safety of the community,” Riggs wrote.

Plea

On Sept. 21, 2020, Clah pleaded guilty without a plea agreement to involuntary manslaughter. He faces a maximum sentence of eight years.

Sentencing will be held remotely at 10 a.m., Dec. 15, 2020, in front of District Judge Kea Riggs, who previously ordered him released.

Sentence

District Judge Kea Riggs, who previously ordered him released, sentenced to just over three years (37 months) followed by three years on supervised release after he is released from prison, during the hearing on Dec. 15, 2020, according to minutes from the hearing. He must also pay $4,500 in restitution.

Chavez’s father, Kinsey Chavez, addressed the judge through a Navajo interpreter, but what he said is not memorialized in the minutes. Clah also made a statement to the judge.

Riggs gave him two days to turn himself in to begin serving his sentence, according to the minutes.

What sentence Clah’s attorney, Emily Carey, argued for, or what sentence federal prosecutor Novaline Wilson asked for, is unknown as the minutes do not memorialize either of their stances.

No sentencing memorandums appear in the court docket either, although the docket is missing eight entries between when Clah pleaded guilty (entry 37) and the entry of judgement (entry 52)in the case. Improperly sealed documents appear to be a problem in New Mexico’s federal court, as outlined by Jeff Proctor, writing in New Mexico In Depth. He found a pattern and practice by prosecutors and public defenders to improperly seal documents in federal criminal cases, contrary to local and federal rules on sealing procedures.

 

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Past stories

Maroquez Clah receives 3-year sentence for fatal crash in San Juan County

Arizona man pleads to involuntary manslaughter without deal in DWI killing

Judge releases Arizona man to family amid the coronavirus pandemic

Judge: Arizona man not allowed to take care of ailing parents during coronavirus pandemic

Maroquez Clah indicted for involuntary manslaughter in August 30, 2019 DWI crash

Mateo Maestas: Monica Murray — 4-16-2019

 

Summary

On April 16, 2019, Mateo Maestas, 22, of Cuba, and enrolled member of the Acoma tribe/Navajo nation, crashed in Laguna into a car driven by a Monica Murray, 43, of the Laguna Pueblo, on State Road 124 (Old Highway Route 66). He was drunk. As a result of the crash, Murray died. Her two children, in the car, survived. On April 18, he was arrested on charges of involuntary manslaughter, DWI and reckless driving.

On June 12, 2019, he was indicted on a single charge of involuntary manslaughter.

On Sept. 5, 2019, Maestas pleaded guilty to the manslaughter charge under a plea deal that specified his sentence would be between five and eight years and it was accepted by federal Magistrate Judge Laura Fashing.

On Jan. 23, 2020, Federal District Judge Dee Benson sentenced Maestas to six years in prison and allowed him 60 days to self surrender. Maestas was arrested a month later for violating the conditions of his pretrial release.

(Note: This story has been updated with victim Monica Murray’s name. She was not named in court documents.)

The crash and indictment

On April 16, 2019, Monica Murray, 43, of the Laguna Pueblo, was driving west on Old Highway Route 66, also known as State Road 124, when Maestas, driving a black Ford sedan, either tried to turn onto Yellow Hill Road or tried to make a U-turn in the intersection, Bureau of Indian Affairs Agent Marcelino ToersBijns wrote in an affidavit for an arrest warrant, submitted to the court on April 18. The lead investigator was BIA Agent RoAnna Bennett.

Laguna Pueblo by ANOXLOU/Flickr

While turning, Maestas’s car slammed into Murray’s car, forcing it off the road and into a small wash on the side of the road.

The crash was initially reported by an unknown woman. The two children in the car were reported to have received serious injuries and the driver was dead when investigators arrived.

State Police Capt. Troy Velasquez told ToersBijns that he was the first officer to arrive at the scene and he checked on Maestas, who said he wanted to get out of his car and wanted help. Velasquez told the federal investigator he saw multiple beer cans in the car and Maestas smelled like alcohol. He made no mention if Velasquez checked on the woman or her children or what their status were.

Laguna Police Officer Keith Riley told ToersBijns that he arrived at the scene “minutes after it occurred” and also spoke to Maestas and asked him how much he drank.

“(He) replied he had too much to drink,” ToersBijns wrote. “MAESTAS was asked what he had to drink and MAESTAS replied margaritas.”

At the hospital, a “presumption blood results” showed a blood-alcohol level of 0.28, over three times the legal-per-se limit is 0.08. According to his plea deal, his blood-alcohol content was later determined to be lower, at 0.19.

According to a sentencing memorandum by his attorney, Britany Schaffer, Maestas was abandoned at his vehicle the night of the accident “in the middle of nowhere by his friends” following a “minor argument.”

“He made a terrible error in attempting to drive back to safety, one for which he will be haunted by for the rest of his life,” Schaffer wrote. “He called out for help to one of his loved ones, but he was too far away to be able to help.”

One of the children, L.R., suffered “liver lacerations and spleen injuries.” She was unrestrained in the back seat.

Schaffer does not write how Maestas was in danger that he needed to drive, drunk, to safety.

Although the criminal complaint was filed on April 18, Maestas was not arrested until May 22 and on May 29, he was released and placed on house arrest, according to court records.

On June 12, a federal grand jury indicted Maestas on a single charge of involuntary manslaughter.

Autopsy

The Office of the Medical Investigator only provided a deputy field investigation following a request for Murray’s autopsy report.

Field investigator Robert Hays wrote in the field investigation that the children in the car with Murray were easily extricated.

“Ms. Murray was still trapped in the drivers (sic) seat, seat belted in and encased by the vehicles (sic) steering column, doorway and dash; all airbags were deployed,” Hays wrote.

He wrote Murray “was a large woman” and appeared to have hit something in the car because “her abdomen fat tissue was all around the front compartment.”

It took over an hour to extract her body from the car, Hays wrote.

The plea

On Sept. 5, 2019, Mateo Maestas pleaded guilty to a single count of involuntary manslaughter, which carries a maximum sentence of eight years.

According to the plea deal, accepted by Magistrate Judge Laura Fashing, dictates Maestas’ sentence will be between five and eight years.

Sentence, wrangling and revoked release

Sentence wrangling

In preparation for the sentencing hearing set for Jan. 17, 2020, his attorney, Britany Schaffer, filed a 15-page sentencing memorandum on Dec. 31, 2019.

She wrote that Maestas drove because his friends left him at his car following a minor argument.

“He made a terrible error in attempting to drive back to safety, one for which he will be haunted by for the rest of his life,” Schaffer wrote. “He called out for help to one of his loved ones, but he was too far away to be able to help.”

Schaffer does not write how Maestas was in danger, or what he was in danger from, that he needed to drive, drunk, to safety, or what safety he was trying to drive toward.

The presentence report, which isn’t public, suggested a sentence of 2 1/2 to 3 years, she wrote.

Schaffer wrote that she wants Browning to give Maestas a sentence at the low end of the plea agreement.

“Mr. Maestas has a criminal history of zero: that is, prior to this case, he has never been convicted of a crime, other than a single speeding ticket,” she wrote. “He is young, hard-working and educated, and aspires to help others in his future as he has been doing during his counseling sessions while this case has been pending.”

He is the grandson of Wilson Joe Chiquito, who was killed in his home. The Federal Bureau of Investigation’s investigation into his killing is still unsolved.

“Although there is no excuse for his actions on the date of the accident, Mr. Maestas was heavily impacted by the loss of his grandfather, and, at the time when this accident occurred, he had unfortunately fallen into a pattern of using alcohol in an unhealthy manner. He was forthright with his probation officer when he discussed his drinking habits, and that he ‘was struggling with alcohol use,'” Schaffer wrote.

Prosecutor Elisa Dimas wants Browning to give Maestas a sentence above the maximum of eight years agreed to in his plea deal because of his “uncharged conduct,” Schaffer wrote. This is because of the injuries to Murray’s children.

One child, L.R., received “liver lacerations and spleen injuries.” She was unrestrained in the back seat.

Dimas’ actual request to increase Maestas’ possible sentence does not appear in the public court docket. The public docket is missing entries 38 and 39 and 44 through 46.

According to Schaffer’s sentencing memo, Dimas’ request for Maestas to receive a sentence above what she agreed to in the plea agreement is document 45, which does not appear on the public court docket. There is no explanation as to why the document is being kept secret and there are no entries indicating it was sealed, or that either the defense or prosecution requested it be sealed.

According to Schaffer’s memo, Dimas wants Maestas to be sentenced to at least a maximum of eight years and one month, one month above what was allowed in his plea deal, although it is not clear if she is seeking a sentence above that and her request is not on the public docket.

In 2018, journalist Jeff Proctor wrote about prosecutors with the U.S. Attorney’s Office, which prosecutes federal cases, and public defenders, improperly sealing court documents, a process that requires a judge’s consent.

Maestas also wrote a letter to Browning and Murray’s family. Although he wrote that he feels sympathy for the woman’s family and he regrets the decision he made, because it killed Murray, much of his letter is about the unsolved killing of his grandfather.

Sentence

Federal District Judge Dee Benson sentenced Maestas on Jan. 23, 2020, to six years in prison, during an hour and 20 minute hearing in federal District Court in Albuquerque.

Federal District Judge Dee Benson

According to the sentencing minute sheet, Dimas asked for an 8-year sentence during the hearing and Maestas’ defense attorney, Britany Schaffer, asked for a 5-year sentence.

According to the minutes, four members of Maestas’ family addressed the judge: M. Vigil, L. Castillo, M. Pablo and J. Maestas.

Maestas also addressed the court, but the minutes contain no information to what anyone said.

Three people also spoke in court on behalf of Murray. M. Valdez spoke on behalf of her family, M. Garcia spoke as a member of the victim’s family and R. Garcia spoke as the guardian of the dead woman’s children, according to the minutes.

Maestas was originally supposed to be sentenced by a different judge. No records indicate why Benson, normally a judge in Utah, sentenced Maestas.

No court documents illuminate why Benson settled on the sentence he did.

Release violations

After Benson gave Maestas 60 days to turn himself in to begin serving his prison sentence, Maestas’ attorneys requested he be allowed to return to his home pending his self-surrender, which Benson granted. Since Dec. 6, 2019, Maestas was living at a halfway house in Albuquerque. Before that, he had been on house arrest.

On Feb. 26, 2020, a federal judge with an illegible signature ordered Maestas arrested, which he was, on March 3, 2020, in Albuquerque.

“Defendant failed to comply with conditions of release: alcohol use, failed to report contact with law enforcement and failed to comply with travel restrictions,” according to the warrant.

Federal Magistrate Judge Paul Briones revoked the conditions of his release on March 5 and ordered he be sent to prison to begin serving his sentence.

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Joey Unkestine: Elison Unkestine, Katherine Edaakie — 10-18-2018

  • 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

 

Summary

On Oct. 18, 2018, Joey Unkestine crashed a 2002 Ford Explorer on Highway 53 on the Zuni Pueblo, killing his brother, Elison Unkestine and his girlfriend, Katherine Edaakie and injuring his girlfriend’s son (D.G.). He was allegedly drunk.

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.

He pleaded guilty and per a binding plea deal, District Judge Scott Skavdahl sentenced Unkestine on Oct. 18, 2019, to the three years, 10 months in prison.

The incident

Joey Unkestine was driving between 74 and 93 mph on Highway 53 on the Zuni Pueblo, after he had been drinking extensively, when he rolled his 2002 Ford Explorer, killing his girlfriend and brother and injuring his girlfriend’s 9-year-old son, D.G., according to his plea agreement.

Zuni Pueblo, eastern edge. Photo by Joseph Novak/Flickr

According to a sentencing memorandum filed by prosecutor Frederick Mendenhall, testing would later show Unkestine’s blood-alcohol content to be 0.36. 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.

Indictment

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.

Plea

On June 20, 2019, Unkestine pleaded guilty to the charges. Mendenhall and defense attorney Irma Rivas signed the plea deal. Federal Magistrate Judge Jerry Ritter accepted the binding plea agreement.

According to the plea agreement, Unkestine would only receive a sentence of three years, 10 months, with probation up to the sentencing judge. Ultimately, he received two years of probation when prosecutors asked for three.

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.

Sentence

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.

Improperly sealed documents?

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.”

Autopsies

According to Edaakie’s autopsy report, she had a blood-alcohol level of 0.28 and methamphetamine in her system.

According to Elison Unkestine’s autopsy report, his blood-alcohol level was 0.14 and he also had methamphetamine in his system.

Office of the Medical Investigator Field Investigator Maria Olivares wrote, in a field investigation, the SUV was heavily damaged and Elison Unkestine had been ejected from it and his right hand was amputated.

In Edaakie’s field investigation, Olivares found Edaakie’s body was in the east-bound lane.

 

See the documents on Google Drive