Sentencing in Dulce torture case moved to October

  • Allister Quintana pleaded guilty to second-degree murder on Jan. 22, 2020
  • The in-person sentencing has been postponed to October because of the coronavirus pandemic

See the case write-up

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The Dulce man who pleaded guilty to torturing his cousin, binding him and locking him in a closet to die will not be sentenced until Oct. 23 at the earliest as the coronavirus pandemic has closed courtrooms and jails to visitors, including attorneys and psychologists.

Mug of Allister Quintana
Allister Quintana

Federal District Judge William Johnson set Allister Quintana’s sentencing hearing for 10 a.m., Oct. 23 in Albuquerque.

Quintana, 26, had been set to be sentenced on June 22, according to minutes of a May 26 hearing. Prosecutor Joseph Spindle is seeking a life sentence for Quintana.

Quintana pleaded guilty to a criminal information charging him with second-degree murder on Jan. 22, 2020. His codefendant, Andrew Bettelyoun, 25, previously pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit kidnapping a year prior, on Jan. 30, 2019.

Quintana and Bettelyoun admitted to torturing Travis Howland, 28, before binding his hands and feet and leaving him, naked, in a closet to die on Feb. 2, 2018 in Quintana’s house, according to court records.

During the May 26 hearing, Spindle said sentencing would take 1 1/2 to 2 hours and he planned to call one witness and two “family victims.” Quintana’s attorney, Ray Twohig, said he wanted to having the hearing moved because of issues related to the pandemic. It was then moved from June 22 to July 27. On June 1, the hearing was again moved, this time to Aug. 21. On July 13, it was moved again to Oct. 23. It is supposed to be in person but the public and media should have access via live streaming, according to the court docket.

In his third motion to reschedule sentencing, filed July 10, Twohig wrote that he “obtained the assistance” of a forensic psychologist to address mental health issues to be considered when Quintana is sentenced.

Quintana is being held at the McKinley County Detention Center and no in-person visits are currently allowed because of the coronavirus pandemic. Twohig needed psychologist Christine Johnson to complete her evaluation because he could complete his own sentencing memorandum but because of visiting restrictions, she was having a hard time, he wrote.

“However, she has been able to arrange Zoom conferences with him,” Twohig wrote. “These are difficult to schedule and conduct, since reception  is uneven and the evaluation process is delayed considerably by the use of this  method. She estimates she will need at least one other Zoom meeting in addition to the three Zoom meetings she has been able to conduct.”

In a sentencing memorandum, Spindle asked for Quintana to be sentenced to life, an upward variance.

No hearing has been set for Bettelyoun and no filings have been made in his case for over a year.

Continue reading “Sentencing in Dulce torture case moved to October”

Judge finds Jansen Peshlakai a danger to the community and won’t release

• Judge denies Jansen Peshlakai‘s bid for release
• Peshlakai showed no elevated risk from the coronavirus

See the case write-up

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Jansen Peshlakai will continue to be housed in the private Cibola County Correction Center after a federal judge found him to be a danger to the community and that the coronavirus did not pose enough of a specific threat to him.

Shiprock. Photo by Mobilus In Mobili/Flickr

According to minutes from the June 4, 2020 hearing, conducted via Zoom, Peshlakai’s attorney, Edward Bustamante, asked he be released to the third-party custody of his sister in Oklahoma.

Federal prosecutor Allison Jaros provided an update on the status of coronavirus cases in the Cibola County Detention Center and asked Peshlakai remain in jail, according to the minutes.

According to the minutes, U.S. Marshal Deputy G. McCoy “provides information re: COVID-19 cases, status of employee’s health at Cibola and outlines medical treatment defendants receive upon entry/release from center.”

Jaros brought one exhibit, entered onto the record, but it was uploaded to PACER and the minutes do not state what it was.

At the end of the 45-minute hearing, District Judge Judith Herrera ordered Peshlakai continue to be held as a danger to the community, according to the minutes.

“Court finds defendant has not shown there is an elevated risk to him in contracting COVID-19, outlines reasons and denies request for release,” the minutes state. “Ms. Jaros to submit order”

Peshlakai allegedly ran down 20-year-old Dakota Whitehat on July 13, 2018. Whitehat was in a vehicle that stopped because Peshlakai was fighting with his wife on the side of the road and, according to one report, screaming for help, according to court documents. Read more about the case in the write-up.

A grand jury indicted Peshlakai on a charge of second-degree murder three months later, on Oct. 2. 2018.

Peshlakai’s competency to stand trial was an issue from the start of the case and he was found not competent on June 14, 2019, before being rehabilitated and found competent on March 20, 2020, his attorney, Edward Bustamante, wrote in a motion for his release.

Jaros opposed Bustamante’s request.

The Cibola County Correction Center, and the company that runs it, CoreCivic, have come under scrutiny because of its handling of the coronavirus pandemic.

In a March 30 response to the United States Marshals Service, Cibola County Detention Center Warden Luis Rosa Jr. wrote a vague letter that the facility is following proper guidelines and instituting social distancing within the facility.

That comes in stark contrast to reporting by Jeff Proctor at New Mexico In Depth. Proctor wrote that inmates had to sign a waiver before receiving face masks.

According to a May 12 filing by Jaros, two federal inmates have tested positive for the coronavirus. They were transferred from Otero County in early May, 2020.

No further hearings are scheduled.

The Cibola County Correction Center allegedly forced inmates to sign waivers before giving them face masks, according to Jeff Proctor reporting in New Mexico In Depth.

Do you have information about this case? NM Homicide needs your assistance. Please fill out this form or contact us.

See all the documents this case on Google Drive or Document Cloud. View the docket on CourtListener.com.

Continue reading “Judge finds Jansen Peshlakai a danger to the community and won’t release”

Jansen Peshlakai requests release because of the coronavirus after competency determination

See the case write-up

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Jansen Peshlakai is asking a federal judge to release him to a halfway-house pending trial because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Peshlakai allegedly ran down 20-year-old Dakota Whitehat on July 13, 2018. Whitehat was in a vehicle that stopped because Peshlakai was fighting with his wife on the side of the road and, according to one report, screaming for help, according to court documents.

Shiprock Pinnacle. Photo by DiAnn L’Roy/Flickr

A grand jury indicted Peshlakai on a charge of second-degree murder three months later, on Oct. 2. 2018.

Peshlakai’s competency to stand trial was an issue from the start of the case and he was found not competent on June 14, 2019, before being rehabilitated and found competent on March 20, 2020, his attorney, Edward Bustamante, wrote in a motion for his release.

He was then returned to New Mexico on April 17, 2020, and taken to the Cibola County Correctional Center outside Milan, a private jail run by CoreCivic, Bustamante wrote.

Peshlakai previously appealed the initial order that he be held without bail. It was denied. Because of the coronavirus pandemic and Peshlakai being transferred, Bustamante filed the new motion for release on April 20, 2020.

“Jansen Peshlakai is an at risk detainee due to his permanent closed head injury and his course of medications that make him vulnerable to any health threat while detained,” Bustamante wrote.

He asked that his client be released to his daughter, Jennifer Peshlakai, in Oklahoma, or his mother, in Churchrock.

Prosecutor Allison Jaros wrote in a response, dated April 23, 2020, that Bustamante did not argue that his client is no longer a flight risk or a danger to the community and that the pandemic would not make it less likely he would violate court orders and drink or harm others if released from custody.

“Defendant’s mental condition has improved since his incarceration, likely due to his forced sobriety,” Jaros wrote.

According to Peshlakai’s own doctor, he requires “24/7” supervision for safety, food preparation, medication administration and assistance with other basic daily activities, she wrote.

Cibola County Detention Center badge
Cibola County Detention Center badge

“The COVID-19 pandemic simply has no bearing on whether conditions of release can reasonably assure the defendant’s appearance in court and the safety of the community,” Jaros wrote.

She wrote that Peshlakai is also not particularly at risk from the coronavirus, citing a New York case where a man with dementia and a history of strokes and heart attacks was denied pre-trial release during the pandemic.

“It would be pure speculation for the Court to presume that Defendant’s underlying conditions pose a greater risk to his safety than if he was released back into the public, where he could resume drinking,” Jaros wrote.

She wrote that when he was arrested, he also had three outstanding warrants. One was a New Mexico probation violation case, although she did not specify if it was federally issued or a state case, and two for failing to appear in court in Oklahoma.

Continue reading “Jansen Peshlakai requests release because of the coronavirus after competency determination”

Prosecutor asks for life sentence in Dulce torture case

  • Allister Quintana pleaded guilty to second-degree murder on Jan. 22, 2020
  • The prosecutor wants Quintana to receive a life sentence because of how heinous his actions were
  • Quintana had Andrew Bettelyoun help torture and bind Travis Howland before leaving him in a closet to die
  • Bettelyoun pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit kidnapping

See the case write-up

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — A federal prosecutor is asking a judge to impose a life sentence on the Dulce man who beat, chopped, stabbed and bound his cousin before locking him in a closet to die of asphyxiation, starvation or dehydration.

Mug of Allister Quintana
Allister Quintana

Allister Quintana, 26, pleaded guilty to a criminal information charging him with second-degree murder on Jan. 22, 2020. His codefendant, Andrew Bettelyoun, 25, previously pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit kidnapping a year prior, on Jan. 30, 2019.

Quintana and Bettelyoun admitted to torturing Travis Howland, 28, before binding his hands and feet and leaving him, naked, in a closet to die on Feb. 2, 2018 in Quintana’s house, according to court records.

Federal prosecutor Joseph Spindle filed a sentencing memorandum/motion for an upward departure in Quintana’s case on April 2, 2020, asking that he receive a life sentence. Spindle wrote he wants six points added to Quintana’s sentencing guideline, to put him at an offense level of 43, where the only suggested sentence is life, regardless of criminal history.

“Defendant’s conduct was unusually heinous, cruel, brutal, and degrading to the victim, warranting the imposition of a six-level upward departure pursuant to U.S.S.G. § 5K2.8,” Spindle wrote.

The extreme conduct guideline Spindle referenced is for “torture of a victim, gratuitous infliction of injury, or prolonging of pain or humiliation.”

Spindle wrote that Quintana’s torture of Howland encompassed three phases.

“He beat him with a flashlight, burned him with a lighter, cut him with a machete, and bound him with a cord,” he wrote. “Doe suffered three types of trauma, blunt, sharp, and compressional.”

Quintana allegedly forced Quintana to sodomize himself with a flashlight and tortured him in three separate rooms before leaving him bound in a closet “where he may have painfully surrounded to starvation, asphyxiation, or dehydration,” Spindle wrote.

The pathologist who performed Howland’s autopsy wrote that the manner of death was homicide but the means was unspecified, according to the autopsy report. None of his injuries were enough to kill him. (Read more about the cause of death here.)

Quintana also allegedly victimized one of Howland’s sisters because she saw his body when responding as a medic, although she did not initially recognize him, Spindle wrote.

What Quintana did to Howland is outlined in greater detail in the case write-up. However, reader discretion is advised because the details are disturbing.

Although Spindle did not write what Quintana’s sentence guideline number was, if it took a full six points to get to 43, the highest number, which carries a suggested sentence of life, his number could have been 37. With no criminal history points, the sentencing guidelines suggest a sentence of 17 to 22 years. With the maximum number of criminal history points, and a guideline of 37, the sentence is 30 years to life.

“Coupled with a criminal history category of I, Defendant’s adjusted guidelines range would be imprisonment for life,” he wrote.

Below is the federal sentencing table, from levels 33 to 43, the highest level.

Federal sentencing guidelines table, levels 33 to 43.
Federal sentencing guidelines table, levels 33 to 43. Prosecutor Joseph Spindle wrote Andrew Bettelyoun’s sentence guidelines is 360 months (30 years) to life. Depending on his criminal history, his level is anywhere from 37, with the highest criminal history rating of V, to 42, with the lowest level of criminal history. Court documents do not say where he lands. Allister Quintana appears to have a level of 37, with no criminal history points.

Quintana also has an “abysmal” criminal history that warranted a higher sentence, Spindle wrote.

Jicarilla Judicial Complex (Ishkoteen)
JJicarilla Apache Nation Ishkoteen Judicial Complex, Dulce, NM. According to federal prosecutors, Allister Quintana had an extensive criminal history, not accounted for in a presentence report. All the cases appear to be tribal. Photo by Bob Nichols/USDA/Flickr.

“In less than ten years, Defendant has been charged nine times,” Spindle wrote. “While none of his previous conduct was even close to the brutality involved in this case, several times his convictions were for violent crimes. At least five of the crimes appeared to victimize women, and at least one involved confinement of the victim in his home.”

It is unclear what alleged crimes Quintana committed, or how many he was convicted of. The only federal case against him is for Howland’s death and state court records only show two cases, both for minor in possession of alcohol, from 2015.

In his presentence report and the calculation of his offense level, he did not receive points for his criminal history, Spindle wrote.

Quintana allegedly wanted Howland to suffer before he did by inflicting pain, humiliation and subjecting his sister to the sight of his decomposing body, Spindle wrote.

Spindle wrote:

“A sentence within the guidelines would not adequately reflect the seriousness of this type of sadistic behavior and would signal to the community that a brutal torture is no different from an isolated shooting. But there is a difference ― a huge difference. Doe’s death was not quick and painless. He died after being beaten, tied up, and sodomized.”

Continue reading “Prosecutor asks for life sentence in Dulce torture case”

Judge: Blood tests in alleged drunk driving killing can be used at trial

  • Kayla Baker is charged for allegedly killing a man in a DWI crash on June 16, 2018 near Navajo
  • Baker was released back to Arizona where she worked as a nurse
  • Prosecutors indicted her 17 months after the fatal crash

See the full case write-up

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — A Cornfields, Ariz. woman will not have her 0.15 blood-serum test thrown out as evidence in her involuntary manslaughter and assault on a minor case following a federal district court judge’s ruling, April 9, 2020, that she voluntarily gave them access to her medical records.

Photo of the Navajo Code Talker Monument in Window Rock, Arizona, with the Window Rock in the background.
Navajo Code Talker Monument, Window Rock, Arizona. Photo by John Fowler/Flickr. CC-BY

Kayla Baker, 24, is charged with involuntary manslaughter and assault of a minor resulting in serious bodily injury after she allegedly drunkenly crashed her car into oncoming traffic on June 16, 2018, on Route 12 outside the town of Navajo, near the border with Arizona. She does not appear to have ever been charged in magistrate court with J.G.’s death, rather, a federal grand jury indicted her 17 months after the fatal crash, according to court documents.

Baker allegedly tried to pass a woman on the two-lane highway and slammed into a car carrying a man, only named J.G. (YOB: 1988, enrolled Navajo National tribal member) in court documents, his “common-law wife,” their 16-month-old son and the woman’s 17-year-old sister, according to court documents.

Baker’s attorney, Aric Elsenheimer, tried to get all the test results thrown out under the theory that she did not voluntarily consent to give them to tribal investigators Farrell Begay and Samantha Yazzie when they interrogated her at a jail in Window Rock, Ariz., following the crash. No court documents state she was charged with, or by whom, while she was held in Window Rock.

A separate blood test at the FBI crime lab showed a blood-alcohol level of 0.12, according to court documents.

District Judge William Johnson dismissed the motion on April 9, 2020.

Johnson also dismissed a motion, on March 6, 2020, to dismiss the charge of assault of a minor resulting in serious bodily injury.

Elsenheimer wrote in the motion that the assault charge, which carries a minimum mandatory sentence of 10 years and a maximum of life, required prior knowledge and intent, that is, that Baker knew and intended his 17-year-old victim was underage when she allegedly drunkenly crashed into her. Assault resulting in serious bodily injury, not done to a minor, carries a maximum sentence of 10 years — the mandatory minimum for its counterpart done to a minor.

On Feb. 28, 2020, Johnson granted a motion to continue the case for a jury trial tentatively set for July 6, 2020.

Continue reading “Judge: Blood tests in alleged drunk driving killing can be used at trial”

Gallup man indicted 16 months after allegedly killing child in DWI crash in July 2018

  • Harrison Davis allegedly crashed a vehicle while drunk on July 1, 2018, which led to the death of a child
  • A federal judge released Davis to the custody of his wife

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — A year after an alleged drunk driving crash that resulted in the death of a child, a federal grand jury indicted a Gallup man on a charge of child endangerment resulting in death.

Gallup. Photo by Wolfgang Staudt/Flickr

The grand jury indicted Harrison Davis on the single count on Nov. 25, 2019, although the case was not entered into the federal court system until Dec. 3, 2019. He was arrested a week later, on Dec. 11, 2019, by Federal Bureau of Investigations Agent Brad Simons, according to an arrest warrant.

Details of the case are extremely scarce and, according to the indictment, Davis is a Native American who was allegedly driving while intoxicated with a boy, age unlisted, and that driving while drunk caused the boy’s death.

It is not clear from court documents if the boy died immediately following the crash, on July 1, 2018, or later on.

According to a motion to continue filed on Jan. 6, 2020, by public defender Sylvia Baiz, the crash happened “in a remote area near Gallup.”

Davis was initially ordered detained on Dec. 12, 2019, in federal court in Albuquerque following a request by prosecutor Frederick Mendenhall, according to a minute sheet.

Davis was arraigned a day later on Dec. 13, 2019, pleaded not guilty to the charge. A different federal prosecutor, David Cowen, did not object to the recommendations of the pretrial services officer and the judge adopted them, according to court minutes.

The minutes sheet does not list what the conditions are. The order releasing him states he can only travel in New Mexico, he can talk to his family but not about the case, he may not use alcohol and he must participate in any outpatient programs ordered by pretrial services. Federal District Court Judge Karen Molzen ordered him released to the custody of his wife, Juanita Davis, and allowed to live in their home near Gallup, according to a minute sheet.

According to the court docket, the case was continued twice, once in January and once in March, and is now set for a tentative trial of June 8, 2020, on the trailing docket.

Davis is being federally charged with a state crime, which is a first-degree felony in New Mexico law.

According to the federal statute, if found guilty, Davis would face the same penalties as he would in New Mexico.

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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 plea deal allowed for 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.

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 plea.

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

Autopsy reports: Fatal crash victims had methamphetamine in system, high BAC

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The autopsy reports for the two people killed in a car wreck in October 2018 shows they both had been drinking and consumed methamphetamine before the crash.

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

Their drinking and methamphetamine use was cited by federal prosecutor Frederick Mendenhall as the reason for the sentence he gave Joey Unkestine in a plea deal: 3 years and 10 months.

Joey Unkestine killed his girlfriend, Katherine Edaakie, his brother, Elison Unkestine and injured Edaakie’s child, referred to in court documents as D.G., when he crashed a 2002 Ford Explorer on Oct. 18, 2018, on Highway 53 on the Zuni Pueblo.

On June 20, 2019, Joey Unkestine pleaded guilty to two counts of involuntary manslaughter and one count of child endangerment. On Oct. 18, 2019, the 1-year anniversary of the crash, Joey Unkestine was sentenced to 3 years and 10 months in prison, per a plea agreement signed by Mendenhall. Federal Magistrate Judge Jerry Ritter accepted the plea. Federal District Court Judge Scott Skavdahl entered the sentence.

According to the plea agreement and a sentencing memorandum written by Mendenhall, Joey Unkestine’s blood-alcohol level was later measured at 0.36 and he was estimated to be driving between 74 and 93 mph on a 55-mph-limit road.

Because the two people in the car were drinking, their deaths do not warrant a sentence at the top of the sentencing range, citing United States v Lente. However, the child being placed in danger did warrant the lengthier sentence, as did his history with alcohol, Mendenhall wrote in the sentencing memorandum:

The two adult victims in this case had been drinking in the vehicle. Both of their deaths are tragic, but the circumstances of this case suggest an upward departure or variance is not necessarily warranted.

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

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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
  • 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.

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.

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

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)

Charges: Two counts of involuntary manslaughter and one count of child endangerment

Status: Guilty plea to two counts of involuntary manslaughter and child endangerment; sentenced

Sentence: 3 years, 10 months years followed by 2 years probation

Date of incident: Oct. 18, 2018

Incident type: DWI

Agency: FBI

Location: Highway 53, Zuni Pueblo, McKinley County

Magistrate case number: None

District case number: 19-cr-0094

Prosecutor: Frederick Mendenhall

 

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.

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The incident, plea and sentence

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.

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.

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. 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.

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.

 

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

Jansen Peshlakai: Dakota Whitehat — 7-13-2018

Suspect: Jansen Peshlakai

Victim: Dakota Whitehat, 20

Charges: Second-degree murder

Status: Pending

Date of incident: July 13, 2018

Agency: FBI

Location: 1/2 mile west of Highway 491 on BIA/Navajo/Indian Services Route 13, near Shiprock and Mitten Rock

Federal magistrate case number: None

Federal district case number: 18-cr-03323

Prosecutor: Allison Jaros

Prosecuting agency: US Attorney’s Office

 

Summary

On July 13, 2018, Jansen Peshlakai allegedly ran over Dakota Whitehat, 20, after some kind of domestic dispute with his wife, on BIA/Navajo/Indian Services Route 13 near Shiprock and Mitten Rock.

He was not charged until three months later when a grand jury indicted him for second-degree murder on Oct. 2, 2018.

In February 2019, his case was placed on hold for a competency evaluation. He was initially found to not be competent, sent to a facility for rehabilitation, and found to be competent on March 20, 2020.

No hearings have been scheduled.

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The incident

On July 13, 2018, Dakota Whitehat, 20, was walking down U.S. Highway 491, near Shiprock, when a car picked him up. After turning onto Indian Services Route/BIA Route/Navajo Route 13, the driver stopped because Jansen Peshlakai and his wife appeared to be in a physical fight, according to a deputy field investigation by Barbara Nabors.

Shiprock Pinnacle. Photo by DiAnn L’Roy/Flickr

“Per law enforcement, both the man and the woman of the parked vehicle became aggressive towards the occupants of vehicle one,” Nabors wrote. “For unknown reasons the decedent began walking eastbound on the opposite side of the road.”

Peshlakai allegedly turned his car around and ran down Whitehat, who was 15 to 20 feet off the highway, she wrote.

Federal prosecutor Allison Jaros wrote in an opposition to Peshlakai’s appeal of his detention that the woman, Peshlakai’s wife, was yelling “Help me! Help me!” when Whitehat, and the people who picked him up, came onto the scene.

Jaros’ account differs from that of Nabors, based on what police initially told her.

The man who picked up Whitehat in his truck earlier on the road offered the wife a ride, Jaros wrote.

Whitehat is referred to as “John Doe” in court documents.

According to Jaros:

“She got into the truck to leave,  which angered the defendant. The defendant got into his vehicle, a brown SUV, and drove across the road to where the white truck was parked. The defendant rammed the white truck. Next, the defendant ran over John Doe who was outside the vehicle on foot.”

Several witnesses, including other motorists who stopped, told investigators that Peshlakai allegedly did not try to swerve or slow down to avoid running over Whitehat, Jaros wrote.

“At the time of the collision, it was light outside,” she wrote. “John Doe died from his injuries later that day.”

Peshlakai had been drinking prior to allegedly running over Whitehat, she wrote.

“The defendant’s dangerousness is exacerbated by his alcohol abuse,” she wrote. “The defendant has been charged with alcohol related offenses on at least ten different occasions. He has convictions for public drunkenness and driving under the influence.”

In 2016, he was convicted of assault and battery with a dangerous weapon, she wrote.

Specifically, he was drinking and driving without a driver’s license when he allegedly killed Whitehat, she wrote.

Below is the approximate location of the alleged attack.

Court proceedings

Indictment

In a motion for release, Peshlakai’s attorney, Edward Bustamante, of Albuquerque, wrote that Peshlakai was initially charged in state court and those charges were dropped after he was indicted federally.

According to a search of public state court records, no arrest appears to have been recorded.

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

On Oct. 2, 2018, a federal grand jury indicted Peshlakai on a charge of second-degree murder, although it would not be entered into the court record until Oct. 11, 2018.

Peshlakai immediately retained Farmington attorney Adam Bell once he learned he could be charged with a crime for allegedly running down Whitehat, Bustamante wrote.

Bell then arranged for Peshlakai to surrender to police in Farmington, he wrote.

According to the docket, he surrendered on Dec. 6, 2018 and Bustamante was appointed as his attorney.

On Dec. 13, 2018, federal Magistrate Judge Laura Fashing ordered Peshlakai held without bail. The minutes only contain the notations that the prosecution, defense spoke and that “Officer Galaz” told Fashing of the resources available at a halfway house.

On Jan. 10, 2019, Bustamante appealed the Fashing’s order.

Peshlakai suffered a “serious closed head injury” in 2013, which require him to “ingest a battery of medications to prevent ongoing seizures,” Bustamante wrote.

Before being arrested by agents with the Federal Bureau of Investigations, Peshlakai was scheduled to meet with multiple doctors about his brain injury.

“Subsequent to surrendering federal authorities Mr. Peshlakai has suffered a disruption in his prescribed medications,” Bustamante wrote. “The disruption in prescribed medication is causing at a minimum elevated anxiety in Mr. Peshlakai which in turn exacerbates Mr. Peshlakai’s closed head injury.”

Fashing “expressed concerns” about Peshlakai getting his medication when she ordered him held without bail. Release to a halfway house in Albuquerque would mean he could resume his medical treatment, he wrote.

On Jan. 28, 2019, District Court Judge Scott Skavdahl denied his motion for release, following a hearing the same day.

Competency

On Feb. 7, 2019, Jaros filed a motion to have Peshlakai evaluated for his competency, an issue because of his 2013 head injury.

When Bell was representing Peshlakai, he told prosecutors that he thought his client was not competent to stand trial, she wrote.

She attached a letter given to her by Bell, from one of his doctors, Garett Riggs, of the Northern Navajo Medical Center.

“Mr. Peshlaki’s (sic) injury affected both frontal lobes of the brain leading to impairments of judgement, planning, and complex decision making,” Riggs wrote.”He requires 24/7 supervision for safety, medication administration, food preparation, and assistant with basic daily activities.”

Bustamante wrote in a motion to have Peshlakai released, because of the coronavirus pandemic, that Peshlakai was evaluated at a facility in Colorado and found incompetent to proceed on June 14, 2019. He was committed to a Federal Bureau of Prisons facility to be returned to competency.

On March 20, 2020, a facility in North Carolina concluded that Peshlakai was competent to proceed to trial and he was returned to New Mexico on April 17, 2020, to the Cibola County Correctional Center in Milan.

Jaros wrote in a response to Bustamante’s motion that his condition has improved since he was initially arrested “likely due to his forced sobriety.”

“The most recent evidence regarding Defendant’s mental state indicates that Defendant has recovered well from his head injury and that his epilepsy is currently under control,” she wrote.

A Bureau of Prisons psychologist wrote that his brain has recovered “well” from the injury and his “current cognitive profile does not reflect evidence of brain injury,” Jaros wrote.

Release request amid coronavirus

On April 20, 2020, Bustamante filed a motion for an expedited hearing to have Peshlakai released because of the threat of the coronavirus.

Peshlakai is an at-risk detainee because of his permanent closed head injury and all his medications, he wrote.

He asked that his client be released to his daughter, Jennifer Peshlakai, in Oklahoma, or his mother, in Churchrock.

Jaros wrote in a response that Bustamante did not argue that his client is no longer a flight risk or a danger to the community and that the pandemic would not make it less likely he would violate court orders and drink or harm others if released from custody.

“The COVID-19 pandemic simply has no bearing on whether conditions of release can reasonably assure the defendant’s appearance in court and the safety of the community,” Jaros wrote.

She wrote that Peshlakai is also not particularly at risk from the coronavirus, citing a New York case where a man with dementia and a history of strokes and heart attacks was denied pre-trial release during the pandemic.

“It would be pure speculation for the Court to presume that Defendant’s underlying conditions pose a greater risk to his safety than if he was released back into the public, where he could resume drinking,” Jaros wrote.

She wrote that when he was arrested, he also had three outstanding warrants. One was a New Mexico probation violation case, although she did not specify if it was federally issued or a state case, and two for failing to appear in court in Oklahoma.

Release request denied

District Judge Judith Herrera held a hearing on June 4, 2020, and denied Peshlakai’s request for release.

According to minutes from the June 4, 2020 hearing, conducted via Zoom, Bustamante asked for his client to be released to the third-party custody of his sister in Oklahoma.

Jaros provided an update on the status of coronavirus cases in the Cibola County Detention Center and asked Peshlakai remain in jail, according to the minutes.

According to the minutes, U.S. Marshal Deputy G. McCoy “provides information re: COVID-19 cases, status of employee’s health at Cibola and outlines medical treatment defendants receive upon entry/release from center.”

Jaros brought one exhibit, entered onto the record, but it was uploaded to PACER and the minutes do not state what it was.

At the end of the 45-minute hearing, District Judge Judith Herrera ordered Peshlakai continue to be held as a danger to the community, according to the minutes.

“Court finds defendant has not shown there is an elevated risk to him in contracting COVID-19, outlines reasons and denies request for release,” the minutes state. “Ms. Jaros to submit order”

 

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Harrison Davis: Unidentified child — 7-1-2018

Suspect: Harrison Davis

Victim: Unidentified male child

Charges: Child endangerment resulting in death

Date of incident: July 1, 2018

Type of incident: DWI crash

Status: Pending

Investigating Agency: Federal (unlisted)

Location: Outside of Gallup, NM

County: McKinley County

Federal district case number: 19-cr-04446

Prosecutor: Frederick Mendenhall

 

Summary

On July 1, 2018, Harrison Davis allegedly drunkenly crashed his car, which lead to the death of a child, although when the child died is not clear. On Nov. 25, 2019, a federal grand jury indicted him on a charge of child endangerment resulting in death, according to court records. His case is pending.

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Incident

Gallup. Photo by Wolfgang Staudt/Flickr

According to the indictment, Davis is a Native American who was allegedly driving while intoxicated with a boy, age unlisted, and that driving while drunk caused the boy’s death. The crash happened on July 1, 2018.

It is not clear from court documents if the boy died immediately following the crash or later on.

According to a motion to continue filed on Jan. 6, 2020, by public defender Sylvia Baiz, the crash happened “in a remote area near Gallup.”

Case is pending

The grand jury indicted Harrison Davis on the single count on Nov. 25, 2019, although the case was not entered into the federal court system until Dec. 3, 2019. He was arrested a week later, on Dec. 11, 2019, by Federal Bureau of Investigations Agent Brad Simons, according to an arrest warrant.

Davis was initially ordered detained on Dec. 12, 2019, in federal court in Albuquerque following a request by prosecutor Frederick Mendenhall, according to a minute sheet.

Davis was arraigned a day later on Dec. 13, 2019, pleaded not guilty to the charge. A different federal prosecutor, David Cowen, did not object to the recommendations of the pretrial services officer and the judge adopted them, according to court minutes.

The minutes sheet does not list what those conditions are. The order releasing him states he can only travel in New Mexico, he can talk to his family but not about the case, he may not use alcohol and he must participate in any outpatient programs ordered by pretrial services. Federal District Court Judge Karen Molzen ordered him released to the custody of his wife, Juanita Davis, and allowed to live in their home near Gallup, according to a minute sheet.

According to the court docket, the case was continued twice, once in January and once in March, and is now set for a tentative trial of June 8, 2020, on the trailing docket.

Davis is being federally charged with a state crime, which is a first-degree felony in New Mexico law.

According to the federal statute, if found guilty, Davis would face the same penalties as he would in New Mexico.

See the case documents on Google Drive or Document Cloud.

Kayla Baker: Unidentified man (J.G., YOB 1988) — 6-16-2018

Suspect: Kayla Baker

Victim: J.G. (male, YOB: 1988, enrolled Navajo Nation member)

Charges: Involuntary manslaughter, assault of a minor resulting in serious bodily injury

Date of incident: June 16, 2018

Type of incident: DWI crash

Status: Pending

Investigating Agency: FBI

Location: Route 12 near Navajo, N.M.

County: McKinley County

Federal district case number: 19-cr-04272

Search warrant case number: 18-mr-00603

Prosecutor: Nicholas Marshall

 

Summary

On June 16, 2018, Kayla Baker allegedly drunkenly passed a car on Route 12, near Navajo, New Mexico, and crashed head-on into another car, killing one Navajo Nation tribal member, a man named J.G., and injuring three others, one severely.

On Nov. 19, 2019, a federal grand jury indicted Baker on charges of involuntary manslaughter and assault of a minor resulting in serious bodily injury. Trial is tentatively set for July 6, 2020, in Albuquerque.

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The incident

On June 16, 2018, Kayla Erika Baker, also known as Kayla Baker, was driving on Route 12 (mile post 36), near Navajo, New Mexico, when she allegedly tried to pass another car on the two-lane road, FBI Agent Lance Roundy wrote in an affidavit for a search warrant.

Photo of the Navajo Code Talker Monument in Window Rock, Arizona, with the Window Rock in the background.
Navajo Code Talker Monument, Window Rock, Arizona. Photo by John Fowler/Flickr. CC-BY

Baker, of Cornfields, Ariz., allegedly crashed head-on into a Ford Fusion carrying J.G. (YOB: 1988, a registered member of the Navajo Nation), his “common-law wife,” their 16-month-old son and the “common-law wife’s” 17-year-old sister, referred to as C.H., according to a response to the motion to dismiss filed by prosecutor Nicholas Marshall.

Navajo Police Officer Cherlyn Owens allegedly found that Baker smelled of alcohol, had slurred speech, bloodshot eyes and a lack of balance and tried to conduct a field-sobriety test, which Baker failed, Roundy wrote.

In the car, Owens found beer bottles and a “bottle of alcohol” in the passenger side, he wrote.

Navajo Police Officer Irene Six found C.H. injured on the ground outside the car. She was flown to a hospital in Fort Defiance, Ariz., before being flown to the University of New Mexico Hospital for a broken leg, Roundy wrote.

A year later. C.H. needed follow-up surgery a year later “on the hardware placed in her leg and to aid in her recovery” and still receives physical therapy, Marshall wrote.

Medics, and a physician who stopped to help, tried to save J.G., and he was flown to Fort Defiance as well, where he was pronounced dead, Roundy wrote.

J.G.’s girlfriend said she remembered trying to hold on tightly to her toddler during the crash. Both her and the toddler suffered minor injuries and were released from the hospital, Marshall wrote.

Navajo Criminal Investigator Farrell Begay interviewed Baker following the crash, but Roundy did not write if Baker waived her Miranda rights.

Roundy wrote:

“During the interview, Baker admitted to purchasing Blue Moon beer and a bottle of Southern Comfort liquor. Baker stated she consumed half a can of beer before driving her car on Route 12. Baker did not recall any details after turning on to Route 12, but did recall waking up in the hospital.”

After federal investigators obtained her medical records, they showed she had a “blood serum of .151 of alcohol,” while an FBI crime lab test showed a she had a blood-alcohol content of 0.12. The legal limit is 0.08, in addition to THC, Marshall wrote.

Marshall wrote:

“The crash data information recovered from the vehicles indicated Defendant was in a passing zone, and went into the other lane, and was accelerating at the time of the crash. There is no indication of Defendant braking, or even swerving, to avoid hitting the other vehicle nor any indication that she even saw the other vehicle. Both cars were driving above the speed limit at the time of the crash.”

Following the crash, Begay and investigator Samantha Yazzie interrogated Baker at the Window Rock Department of Corrections in Window Rock, Ariz.

During that interrogation, Baker consented to giving investigators her medical records, including the blood test results.

Her attorney tried unsuccessfully to have the blood test results suppressed.

It is not clear how long, or under what charges or jurisdiction, Baker was held in Arizona because she was never charged for the crash in federal magistrate court.

Indictment and release

On Nov. 19, 2019, 17 months after J.G. died in the crash, a federal grand jury indicted Baker on charges of involuntary manslaughter and assault of a minor resulting in serious bodily injury.

While involuntary manslaughter carries a maximum sentence of eight years, assaulting a minor carries a minimum mandatory sentence of 10 years with a maximum sentence of life. Assault resulting in serious bodily injury, but not done to a minor, carries a maximum sentence of 10 years.

After Begay arrested her on Nov. 25, 2019, at the Fort Defiance Indian Hospital, she was brought to federal court in Albuquerque where federal Magistrate Judge Jerry Ritter ordered her held without bail until a detention hearing on Dec. 3, 2019, where she was ordered released by Magistrate Judge Kirtan Khalsa. (LINK) She pleaded not guilty during her arraignment the day before.

Marshall opposed her release, but the minutes contain no documentation of why.

According to the conditions of her release, she was released into the custody of Carol Tapaha and ordered, with the exception of travel to court, to stay within Apache and Coconino counties in Arizona. She is also supposed be monitored for alcohol use.

After her release, Baker was fired from her job as a nurse “in an emergency room setting,” her attorney, Aric Elsenheimer, wrote in a motion to modify the conditions of her release.

Her unnamed employer took the restriction of her release, that she have no contact with the victims or their families, to mean she could not work at the hospital and he wanted the judge to change the conditions so she could have incidental contact. Marshall did not oppose the motion, he wrote.

Khalsa granted it.

Motions

Motion to dismiss assault on a minor charge

Aric Elsenheimer filed two motions early in the case. The first was to dismiss the second count of the indictment, for assault of a minor resulting in serious bodily injury.

Elsenheimer wrote that the crime required Baker’s knowledge that the person she severely injured was a minor.

District Judge William Johnson dismissed the motion.

Motion to suppress blood tests

Elsenheimer filed a separate motion to suppress the blood tests.

He wrote in a motion to suppress that the investigators, Begay and Yazzie, “did not obtain valid consent” from Baker to get her blood tests from the hospital.

Johnson denied that motion.

Still pending

On Feb. 28, 2020, Johnson granted a motion to continue the case for a jury trial tentatively set for July 6, 2020.

 

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Allister Quintana, Andrew Bettelyoun: Travis Howland — 2-2-2018

Suspect: Allister Danzig Quintana

Suspect: Andrew Bettelyoun

Victim: Travis Howland, 28

Date of incident: Feb. 2, 2018

Investigative agencies: Federal Bureau of Investigations

Location: 66 Navajo Street, Dulce, Jicarilla Apache Nation, Rio Arriba County

Federal search warrant case number: 18-mr-00578

Prosecutor: Joseph Spindle

Prosecuting agency: US Attorney’s Office

Allister Quintana
Charges: First-degree murder, kidnapping resulting in death and conspiracy to commit kidnapping
Status: Plea to second-degree murder, sentencing pending
Relationship to victim: Cousin
Federal magistrate case number: 18-mj-01776
Federal district case number: 18-cr-03989

Andrew Bettelyoun
Charges: Murder, conspiracy to commit murder and kidnapping
Status: Plea to conspiracy to commit kidnapping; sentencing pending
Relationship to victim: Cousin
Federal magistrate case number: 18-mj-03427
Federal district case number: 19-cr-00216

 

Summary

Allegedly angry about not being bailed out of jail by his cousin, Allister Danzig Quintana, 25, allegedly beat, tortured and bound Travis Howland, 28, on Feb. 2, 2018, at his Dulce home, with the help of Andrew Bettelyoun, 24. On Feb. 14, 2018, Howland’s body was found in the closet of Quintana’s house while Quintana was in jail on a domestic case, according to court records.

Quintana was not arrested until May 24, 2018, federal agents arrested Quintana and charged him with murder and on Oct. 22, 2018, Bettelyoun was charged with murder. Quintana was subsequently indicted on first-degree murder. On Jan. 30, 2019, Bettelyoun pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit kidnapping. Quintana was then indicted on kidnapping and conspiracy charges. On Jan. 22, 2020, Quintana pleaded guilty to second-degree murder, according to court records.

Quintana’s sentencing is set for June 22. No hearing date is set for Bettelyoun’s sentencing.

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The incident

Grudges and bail

Mug of Allister Quintana
Allister Quintana

Problems allegedly started between Allister Quintana, 25, and cousin Travis Howland, 28, in late January 2018 after Quintana gave Howland his bank card and asked him to bail him out of jail, Howland’s girlfriend, who is also the mother his child, told investigators, according to an affidavit for a criminal complaint written by FBI Agent Lance Roundy for Andrew Bettelyoun‘s arrest. Howland’s girlfriend is only identified in court documents as “A.C.”

Howland did not bail out Quintana. On Feb. 2, 2018, A.C. dropped off Howland in Dulce with a friend after they spent the morning together in Pagosa Springs, Colo. Howland met with Bettelyoun, Quintana and Sharol Cachucha  and they all went back to Pagosa Springs so Quintana could withdraw money to bail out another friend. He was unable to and contacted B.C., a man, who gave Bettelyoun and Quintana a ride to Dulce while A.C. and Cachucha stayed in Pagosa Springs for the night, Roundy wrote.

At 11 p.m. that night, A.C. did a video chat with Howland. At 11:26, Howland tried to video chat with AC, but was not able to. A.C. tried to contact Howland multiple times over the next few days, but wasn’t able to get through. It was the last time she talked to him, Roundy wrote.

The killing

Warning: the following series of events, taken from court documents, are disturbing.

The night of Feb. 2, 2018, Quintana, Bettelyoun and Howland were at Quintana’s house with “several friends and family members” when, after drinking, Quintana allegedly attacked Howland, Prosecutor Joseph Spindle wrote in a motion for an upward departure for Quintana’s sentence.

Dulce, New Mexico. Jicarilla Apache Nation sign. Photo by Bob Nichols/USDA/Flickr.
Dulce, New Mexico. Jicarilla Apache Nation sign. Photo by Bob Nichols/USDA/Flickr.

At first, Quintana allegedly punched Howland in the face, and Bettelyoun joined in the attack before both men grabbed a 14-inch flashlight and a lighter and Quintana beat Howland with the flashlight and burned him with the lighter, Spindle wrote, citing the private presentence report.

“Bleeding profusely, Doe was forced into the bathroom to avoid staining the living room. Defendant and Bettelyoun followed Doe into the bathroom and began a new phase of the eventual murder,” he wrote.

Quintana allegedly ordered Howland to undress, and then ordered him to place the metal flashlight into his own rectum, he wrote.

“Humiliated, Doe complied,” Spindle wrote.

Quintana allegedly picked up the flashlight with a towel and continued beating Howland, then told Bettelyoun to get an extension cord, which he used to tie Howland’s hands behind is back. Once he was bound, Quintana allegedly used a machete to “chop” Howland’s back. Because Howland was bleeding, Quintana told Bettelyoun to put wrapping paper on the floor of a closet, then moved Howland into it, he wrote.

“Doe begged for his life,” Spindle wrote. “Defendant and Bettelyoun left Doe in a closet where he eventually perished.”

According to an indictment charging Quintana with first-degree murder, he allegedly beat Howland with his fists, a flashlight and a stick and stabbed him with a machete and a sword.

When FBI agents searched Quintana’s house, they seized a machete and a sword, both of which appeared to have dried blood on them, as well as the black flashlight, Roundy wrote.

According to an affidavit for a search warrant for Quintana’s house written by Roundy, investigators found a stool in a back bedroom that appeared to be in the process of being remodeled, and there was a “significant” amount of what appeared to be blood splattered on the floor surrounding the stool, as well as dried blood spattered on the walls.

“Near the bedroom and on the floor was a large trail of what appeared to be dried blood that was smeared and led to the hallway and near the closet where John Doe’s body was discovered,” Roundy wrote.

They also found what appeared to be two improvised weapons made out of broomsticks. They also found a knife with blood on it, and a hammer, in Quintana’s bedroom, Roundy wrote.

Jicarilla Judicial Complex (Ishkoteen)
Jicarilla Apache Nation Ishkoteen Judicial Complex, Dulce, NM. Photo by Bob Nichols/USDA/Flickr.

“The items had the appearance of broken broom sticks with one end of each stick having cloth wrapped in silver duct tape with a dried red substance similar to that of blood,” Roundy wrote.

Bettelyoun allegedly talked to investigators on multiple occasions and initially denied any involvement in the case, Roundy wrote in the affidavit for a criminal complaint.

He was charged and arrested on Oct. 22, 2018, five months after Quintana.

When Bettelyoun was interviewed on July 12, 2018, he allegedly admitted to drinking with Quintana and Howland but claimed he passed out and woke up a short time later to Quintana arguing with Howland and punching him, Roundy wrote.

“Quintana requested help from BETTELYOUN, who admitted to participating in the assault by punching John Doe in the face approximately four times,” Roundy wrote.

He told investigators he watched Quintana beat Howland with the flashlight and Quintana demand Howland insert the flashlight into his rectum, he wrote.

“BETTELYOUN stated that he heard John Doe beg Quintana not to kill him on several occasions during the assault,” Roundy wrote.

After allegedly helping bind Howland’s hands and feet and moving him to the hall closet, naked and bleeding, Bettelyoun left the house. He returned a few days later. When he did, there was a foul odor coming from the closet, Roundy wrote.

Quintana was not charged until three months later, on May 24, 2018.

Discovery of the body

According to a deputy field investigation from the Office of the Medical Investigator, Brian Cachucha discovered Howland’s body on Feb. 14, 2018. Howland had been in jail since Feb. 8 on an unrelated domestic violence charge.

Field Investigator Lynne Gudes wrote that Brian Cachucha went to check on the house because he knew Howland was in jail and he noted that the back bedroom window was either open or broken and one of the doors was unlocked. He was worried about the pipes freezing and planned on sealing the open window.

“When Cachucha entered he smelled a strong odor,” Gudes wrote.

He opened the closet door and found Howland.

The thermostat was on its highest setting, but the house was not retaining heat because of the windows covered with plywood and other “makeshift patching material.”

Cause of death

According to an autopsy report, Howland died from “unspecified means.”

Howland had superficial blunt and sharp injuries to the head, torso, arms and legs, skull fractures, a stab wound on his buttocks, a rib fracture, slash on his foot and at least one “gaping” slash wound on his back.

Roundy wrote in his affidavit for a search warrant for Quintana’s house that Howland had stab wounds and blunt-force trauma to the head.

Howland was already in a state of decomposition when he was found, which complicated determining his cause of death. However, none of the injures identified by the pathologist were enough to have killed him, according to the autopsy report.

According to the report:

“However, multiple possibilities as a mechanism of death remain possible. Although the necklace around his neck was not tightly bound, nor were there significant internal neck injuries, Mr. Howland was found prone with bound extremities, and an asphyxial component to death cannot be ruled out. Furthermore, it remains possible that Mr. Howland was alive at the time he was left in the closet. Dehydration and/or starvation remain potential mechanisms of death. Vitreous (eye fluid) and blood could not be collected for laboratory testing due to decomposition.”

Social media posts

A.C., Howland’s girlfriend, provided FBI agents screenshots of an Instagram conversation made by the account “danzigcrowley,” which belonged to Quintana, according to Roundy’s affidavit for a criminal complaint for Bettelyoun.

12:02 a.m., Feb. 3, 2018

danzigcrowley: Every thing happened

Other poster: What do you mean by that?

danzigcrowley: Like ppl drinking n arguing n dumb shit

Other poster: Are you drunk?

danzigcrowley: I wish I’m kicking some ass

Other poster: Why?

danzigcrowley: Cuz thought I had family but now I know I’m by mysef…N lost u n mad at the world n tryan Change just been through a lot

Other poster: Just calm down please..sigh, you’re not fully alone…Have fun an be safe I can’t talk at the moment now…

danzigcrowley: But y?? N same here about to kill someone

Other poster: Why? An I hate myself n

danzigcrowley: Have to do some bat man shit

Other poster: To who?

danzigcrowley: Don’t worry about it be shit all over the house (racial epithet) scard

10:31 a.m., Feb. 3, 2018

danzigcrowley: bro

dakidoncloud9: whats up mane

danzigcrowley: I was about to kill someone last night

dakidoncloud9: What the fuck who my (racial epithet)

danzigcrowley: My brother haha

dakidoncloud9: Which one ?

danzigcrowley: Travis shit was crazy

A “close associate,” J.V., identified “danzigcrowley” as Quintana’s Instagram account, that he would not let anyone else use or access his account and that she believed he was drunk, at the time he wrote the posts, based on the verbiage and her previous experience messaging with him, Roundy wrote.

She said that a short time prior, Quintana allegedly attacked her and choked her. Quintana was in jail when Howland’s body was discovered.

Following a search of Quintana’s phone, agents found text messages between himself and someone identified as “Mairo” on Feb. 3, 2018.

10:17 a.m., Mairo: About you coming to Santa Fe? Good.

10:18 a.m., Quintana: Umm doing some batman shit I’ll go next week if you don’t mind.”

Simmering resentment

According to witness H.H., Howland and Quintana had fought in the past because Howland was having a sexual relationship with Quintana’s biological mother, Roundy wrote in his affidavit for a criminal complaint for Bettelyoun.

“H.H. said that she knew Quintana to be violent, more so when he was intoxicated or on drugs,” Roundy wrote.

Other confessions

According to Roundy’s search warrant affidavit, one witness, B.C., told investigators that he “was associated” with Quintana and, when he went to his house sometime between Feb. 3 and 5, 2018, he was denied entry, which he described as “abnormal.”

“B.C. also stated that he had an in-person conversation with QUINTANA on or about February 13, 2018 in which QUINTANA stated that he did something wrong and needed to clean up his house,” Roundy wrote. “QUINTANA said that once he bonded out of jail, he was going to clean up the mess at his house and leave the Jicarilla Apache Indian Reservation.”

On April 26, 2018, investigators interviewed one of the people who had been in jail with Quintana during the second week of February, before Howland’s body was discovered. The man, identified as M.M., said he had three conversations with Quintana, Roundy wrote in his affidavit for a criminal complaint for Bettelyoun.

M.M. told investigators that during the first conversation, Quintana allegedly approached him and said he was planning on moving to Santa Fe to go to school and he needed someone to look after his house and asked if M.M. would help clean up his house, he wrote.

“During the second conversation Quintana told M.M. he was in “deep shit” and that only certain people knew about it,” Roundy wrote.

In the third conversation, M.M. alleged Quintana asked him to clean something up from his house when they were both released.

“Quintana made the comment that he needed to get something out of his house before it started to stink and that if he did not get it out before it began to stink it would then result in a manslaughter charge,” Roundy wrote.

Another person in jail with Quintana was J.M., who told investigators that on Feb. 12, 2018, Quintana allegedly approached him.

“During the conversation, Quintana told him that he and BETTELYOUN tortured and killed someone and bound the body in a closet,” Roundy wrote. “Quintana acted nervous while talking with J.M. and said that he was concerned because he left the heat on in the house which Quintana believed would cause the body to decompose quicker.”

The searches

According to court records, the FBI initially searched Quintana’s house after Howland’s body was discovered on Feb. 14, 2018, and shortly thereafter searched his phone.

On June 28, 2018, Jicarilla Apache Nation Investigator Danny Garcia searched the house based on consent from Quintana and found a knife with dried blood on it in the bedroom, as well as a hammer with dried blood.

On July 2, 2018, the FBI went back to the house and conducted another search and this time, seized a machete with dried blood, a sword with dried blood, a black metal flashlight, a hammer, a second sword in a sheath, two clumps of suspected dark hair, one wooden stick and took 99 photos.

 

Arrests, indictments and pleas

The following account of the arrests, pleas and indictments is in chronological order. They are addressed below.

Arrest, indictment and plea timeline

In summary:

Initial arrests

Although Howland’s bound and tortured body was discovered in Quintana’s house on Feb. 14, 2018, it wasn’t until May 24, 2018, that FBI Agent Rachael Hickox filed a criminal complaint charging Quintana with murder and he was arrested the same day or the next day, according to the court docket. Hickox’s complaint listed the time frame for Howland’s death as Feb. 2 to 8, 2018.

After pleading not guilty and waiving time limits for presentation to the grand jury, his case was repeatedly continued.

On Oct. 22, 2018, Roundy filed a criminal complaint charging Bettelyoun with murder, conspiracy to commit murder and kidnapping. Bettelyoun was arrested in Nevada and transferred to New Mexico. A search for him shows no other federal cases in Nevada.

Quintana’s first indictment

On Nov. 16, 2018, a grand jury indicted Quintana on a single charge of first-degree murder.

Bettelyoun’s plea

After Bettelyoun waived a preliminary hearings and grand jury presentment multiple times, on Jan. 30, 2019, he pleaded guilty to a criminal information charging him with conspiracy to commit kidnapping.

According to the plea deal, accepted by federal Magistrate Judge Jerry Ritter and offered by Spindle, Bettelyoun admitted to hitting Howland, providing weapons and “binding material” to Quintana, helping transport Howland from one room to another and that they relied on each other to assault, subdue, bind, confine and transport Howland “to secure the mutual goal of the conspiracy.”

The maximum sentence is life and prosecutors made no binding agreements. Instead, because he pleaded guilty, Bettelyoun will receive a reduction of two levels under the sentencing guidelines.

However, the sentencing guidelines are not binding on the judge and both the prosecution and defense can argue for harsher, or more lenient, sentences.

Quintana’s superseding indictment

On Feb. 13, 2019, just under two weeks after Bettelyoun pleaded guilty to conspiring with Quintana, a second grand jury indicted Quintana on a new set of charges, in a superseding indictment. Those charges were:

  • First-degree murder
  • Kidnapping resulting in death
  • Conspiracy to commit kidnapping

According to the indictment, there were a series of overt acts and that “others known and unknown” attacked Howland, punched him, brought a flashlight and machete to Quintana and other actions ascribed to Bettelyoun in other court documents.

Quintana’s guilty plea

On Jan. 22, 2020, Quintana pleaded guilty to a criminal information charging him with second-degree murder. Ritter accepted the plea, proffered by Spindle.

According to the plea deal, there was no agreement as to sentence, other than Quintana being eligible for a two-level reduction in his sentencing guidelines.

However, both sides are free to argue for a higher or lower sentence than what is calculated under the guidelines. Spindle also agreed to not being any further charges against Quintana.

 

Sentencing

Pending sentencing hearings

On May 1, 2019, Bettelyoun was supposed to be sentenced at 10 a.m. in Albuquerque, but according to online court records and the federal Bureau of Prisons, it appears he was never sentenced. No future sentencing hearings have been set.

Quintana is currently set to be sentenced at 2 p.m., June 22 in Albuquerque in the Cimarron courtroom in front of Chief District Judge William Johnson.

According to a motion reschedule the sentencing hearing by Quintana’s attorney, Ray Twohig, he has hired a forensic psychologist to help him and sentencing should be done in person. However, the coronavirus pandemic has curtailed in-person hearings and, by June, it is possible that hearings can be held in person again.

Prosecutors push for life sentence for Quintana

On April 2, Spindle filed a motion for Quintana to receive a greater sentence than suggested according to the sentencing guidelines, as prepared in a private presentence report.

Quintana’s actions were “unusually heinous, cruel, brutal and degrading to the victim,” and should result in a six-level increase in his sentencing guidelines, putting him at a level of 43, Spindle wrote.

Federal sentencing guidelines table, levels 33 to 43.
Federal sentencing guidelines table, levels 33 to 43.

Although Spindle did not write what Quintana’s sentence guideline number was, if it took a full six points to get to 43, the highest number, which carries a suggested sentence of life, his number could have been 37. With no criminal history points, the sentencing guidelines suggest a sentence of 17 to 22 years. With the maximum number of criminal history points, and a guideline of 37, the sentence is 30 years to life.

“Coupled with a criminal history category of I, Defendant’s adjusted guidelines range would be imprisonment for life,” he wrote.

Spindle wrote that Quintana’s alleged torture of Howland encompassed three phases.

“He beat him with a flashlight, burned him with a lighter, cut him with a machete, and bound him with a cord,” he wrote. “Doe suffered three types of trauma, blunt, sharp, and compressional.”

Quintana forced Quintana to sodomize himself with a flashlight and tortured him in three separate rooms before leaving him bound in a closet “where he may have painfully surrounded to starvation, asphyxiation, or dehydration,” he wrote.

Quintana also victimized one of Howland’s sisters because she saw his body when responding as a medic, although she did not initially recognize him, Spindle wrote.

Quintana also has an “abysmal” criminal history that warranted a higher sentence, he wrote.

“In less than ten years, Defendant has been charged nine times,” Spindle wrote. “While none of his previous conduct was even close to the brutality involved in this case, several times his convictions were for violent crimes. At least five of the crimes appeared to victimize women, and at least one involved confinement of the victim in his home.”

It is unclear what alleged crimes Quintana committed, or how many he was convicted of. The only federal case against him is for Howland’s death and state court records only show two cases, both for minor in possession of alcohol, from 2015.

In his presentence report and the calculation of his offense level, he did not receive points for his criminal history, Spindle wrote.

Quintana wanted Howland to suffer before he did by inflicting pain, humiliation and subjecting his sister to the sight of his decomposing body, Spindle wrote.

He wrote:

“A sentence within the guidelines would not adequately reflect the seriousness of this type of sadistic behavior and would signal to the community that a brutal torture is no different from an isolated shooting. But there is a difference ― a huge difference. Doe’s death was not quick and painless. He died after being beaten, tied up, and sodomized.”

Sentencing “anomaly”

Quintana’s current sentencing guideline appears to place him in the sentencing range of 17 to 22 years, based on a presumed sentencing guideline number of 37 based on court filings.

Bettyloun faces a sentence range of 30 years to life, Spindle wrote.

Quintana being positioned to receive a lower sentence creates a sentencing “anomaly” between them, he wrote.

Spindle wrote:

“By all accounts, Defendant’s conduct was far more egregious than his codefendant, Mr. Bettelyoun’s conduct. However, based upon the application of a cross reference in Mr. Bettelyoun’s case, his applicable guidelines range is imprisonment for 360 months to life. This is a glaring disparity between the codefendants considering that Defendant and Mr. Bettelyoun have similar criminal histories.”

Quintana’s sentencing is set for 2 p.m., June 22 in Albuquerque in the Cimarron courtroom in front of Chief District Judge William Johnson. No hearing has been set for Bettelyoun.

According to a motion reschedule the sentencing hearing by Quintana’s attorney, Ray Twohig, he has hired a forensic psychologist to help him and sentencing should be done in person. However, the coronavirus pandemic has curtailed in-person hearings and, by June, it is possible that hearings can be held in person again.

Travis Howland

Amanda Martinez, writing for the Rio Grande SUN, talked to Howland’s family about who he was as a person, as well as their reactions to the case.

“He was a guitar player, a graffiti artist, someone who loved metal music and a father,” Martinez wrote.

Howland was goofy, liked to crack jokes and grew up with his sisters in and out of foster care, she wrote.

Martinez wrote that Bettelyoun is the nephew of the Jicarilla Apache Nation’s Juvenile Officer, Letita Julian, who is married to detective Aaron Julian.

 

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