Victim’s father files wrongful death lawsuit against Anthony Wagon

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FARMINGTON, N.M. — The father of Jeremy Beard, allegedly intentionally run over in 2017, is suing the accused killer and his insurance company for his son’s death.

Anthony Wagon

Christian Beard filed the lawsuit in Farmington District Court on April 24, 2020, naming accused killer Anthony Wagon, 23, relatives Hershell Wagon and Tina Wagon and insurance companies MGA Insurance Company and Gainsco Insurance Company.

Anthony Wagon allegedly ran down Jeremy Beard, 29, on April 26, 2017 with his truck, after Jeremy Beard took him down during a scuffle following accusations over a stolen beer. Jeremy Beard was his aunt’s husband.

Anthony Wagon is charged with first-degree murder for Jeremy Beard’s death and his case is ongoing.

Christian Beard’s attorney, William Jaworski, wrote in the lawsuit that MGA and Gainsco insured the truck allegedly used to run over Jeremy Beard, and the three Wagons paid the insurance premiums.

When Anthony Wagon allegedly ran down Jeremy Beard, he operated the car in a “negligent and reckless manner,” Jaworski wrote.

“The car accident that killed Jeremy Beard was foreseeable,” he wrote. “The car accident was a proximate cause of Jeremy Beard’s death.”

He is asking for reasonable damages, compensatory damages for the loss of consortium, for the enhanced injury of death and punitive damages, according to the lawsuit.

No hearings have been set in the case.

Read more about the criminal case in the write-up or read more stories about the case

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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

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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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Oral arguments scheduled for Muhammad Ameer murder appeal

Muhammad Ameer is appealing two issues from his trial
• The case is scheduled for a year after the last brief was submitted to the court in July 2019

See the full case write-up

Update: Listen to the oral arguments

SANTA FE, N.M. — Justices will hear oral arguments in Muhammad Ameer‘s appeal of his felony murder conviction on July 7, 2020, although it may be done via teleconference.

Muhammad Ameer

The case is scheduled for oral arguments 10:15 a.m., July 7, 2020, but whether it will be in person or via video is still up in the air because of the coronavirus pandemic.

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.

Although four issues were initially raised in a statement of issues for Ameer’s automatic appeal to the Supreme Court, in the June 10, 2019 brief in chief, Assistant Appellate Defender Steven Forsberg, with the Law Office of the Public Defender, only challenged two issues: the judge not suppressing Ameer’s statement to the police and the lack of a self-defense instruction.

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

A Miranda rights waiver has to be both voluntary and knowing and intelligent, but Flores stated she believed police coercion was required to suppress the statement. However, that is only required to find if a statement was given voluntarily; a statement can still fail to meet the knowing and intelligent threshold in the absence of coercion, Forsberg wrote.

He wrote that Ameer was “in the grips of severe mental illness” when he made the waiver.

The statement was also the only evidence Ameer was the initial aggressor. When the defense argued for a self-defense instruction, the judge said she could not discount his statement to police. Forsberg wrote:

None of the eyewitnesses saw what caused Ameer to flee from Mr. Sieben’s truck while Mr. Sieben chased him, but Ameer in his statement said he had held a knife to Mr. Sieben. None of the witnesses could provide a motive for those events, until Mr. Muhammad said during his statement, according to the detective, “that he wanted to get meth; to get high; to kill himself, and he made statements that he killed him because he did not want to continue to ask people for money.” [8 Tr. 23:24-25:15] Due to his mental state, Ameer’ s statements were not knowing (let alone reliable).

When the defense was arguing for a self-defense instruction, the trial court judge emphasized the importance of the statement: “I think the problem for me is you really want me to discount the Defendant’s statement, and I can’t” [8 Tr. 56:16-56:18] Ameer’s unknowing statement kneecapped any defense he might have had.

Forsberg wrote that the Supreme Court should either reverse his conviction and remand for a re-trial, with the statement suppressed, or remand the case to the District Court for a new hearing on the suppression issue.

Should the trial court, on remand, find the statement unknowing, then a new trial would be required. If, on the other hand, the trial court held that the statement was knowing and intelligent, then Mr. Muhammad could appeal that decision to this Court.

In the answer brief for the prosecution, filed June 20, 2019, Assistant Attorney General Maris Veidemanis wrote that, although Ameer was experiencing delusions during the police interrogation, he was “coherent and articulate” and that the defense presented no information that Ameer did not understand the Miranda warning.

If there had been an error, it wouldn’t have mattered because there was ample evidence to convict him of felony murder, predicated on armed robbery, Veidemanis wrote.

As to the self-defense instruction, Veidemanis wrote that really, the Flores’ decision was based on the lack of evidence that Ameer had been attacked and pointed to State v Abeyta, which states that self defense must be reasonable in relation to the threat posed and that excessive force in self defense “renders the entire action unlawful.”

On July 10, 2019, Forsberg filed a reply brief and focused on Veidemanis’ emphasis on the voluntariness of Ameer’s statement. He wrote that the trial court should be ordered to consider evidence of Ameer’s mental state in determining if he knowingly and intelligently waived his rights.

He wrote that Veidemanis’ claims that the case could have stood without his statement was contradicted by the trial prosecutor, who fought the suppression motion and highlighted the statement during his closing arguments.

The case is scheduled for oral arguments at 10:15 a.m., July 7, 2020.

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Judge suppresses Anthony Wagon’s interrogation, prosecutors appeal

• Judge orders interrogation of Anthony Wagon be suppressed
• Prosecutors appealed the order the same day
• Judge previously found Farmington police officers illegally seized Wagon on the Navajo Nation

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AZTEC, N.M. — Prosecutors cannot use Anthony Wagon‘s statement to a Farmington detective made in the police station, following his illegal seizure on the Navajo Nation, District Judge Daylene Marsh ordered on June 2, 2020, but prosecutors appealed the order same day.

Wagon allegedly ran down his aunt’s husband, April 26, 2017, in his car because he was allegedly mad about getting taken to the ground during a scuffle.

Anthony Wagon

Farmington Police Det. Jason Solomon never read Wagon his Miranda rights after he was brought in for interrogation by detectives Chris StantonJesse Griggs and Chad Herrera, Marsh wrote. The three went to the Navajo nation and, Marsh previously ruled, illegally seized him.

The three detectives went to a house on the Navajo Nation, found Wagon, ordered he come to them, and then transported him to the border where they transferred him into Sgt. Travis Spruell’s police car, who then took him to the Farmington Police Department, Marsh wrote in a July 31, 2019 order. In that order, she found the seizure was illegal, but, after further briefings, she upheld the statements Wagon made to Spruell in an order filed Nov. 15, 2019.

Wagon’s attorney, public defender Craig Acorn, filed a motion to suppress on Jan 16, 2020, followed by an addendum on March 3, 2020. After a hearing on May 14, 2020, Marsh issued her June 2, 2020 decision.

Acorn wrote that Wagon was very drunk and was never given his Miranda warnings, and even if it were given, he was too intoxicated to waive his rights.

Marsh wrote, in her order suppressing his statements to Solomon, that he was never read his rights, making his intoxication a moot point.

“The inadequacy of the advisement of rights requires the exclusion from use at trial of Defendant’s statement to Detective Solomon and whether Defendant knowingly and intelligently waived his rights has become moot,” Marsh wrote.

However, his interview with Stanton, Griggs and Herrera was acceptable because of a Miranda warning.

“Defendant’s statements to Farmington Police Detectives Stanton, Griggs, or Herrera are not excluded from use at trial in this matter to the extent Defendant would have them excluded for the failure to properly Mirandize Defendant,” Marsh wrote.

The same day Marsh issued the order suppressing Wagon’s interrogation by Solomon, June 2, 2020, prosecutor Brian Decker filed a notice of appeal.

No further court hearings have been scheduled.

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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

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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.

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Judge stays ABQ involuntary manslaughter case for prosecution appeal

• Prosecutor John Duran initially dismissed murder charges after he missed a series of deadlines
• Judge Brett Loveless overruled the order of the previous judge in the case to allow the case to continue, even though the case has been going on for over three years
Scott Wade Bachicha is now facing a charge of involuntary manslaughter

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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — After years of delays that lead to an initial dismissal of a murder charge, an Albuquerque man will have to wait even longer for his day in court after a judge ordered a stay in his case while prosecutors appeal a dismissal of a firearms enhancement.

Scott Bachicha

Scott Wade Bachicha, 35, allegedly shot and killed girlfriend Mindy Stuart, 30, with a shotgun blast to the neck on April 16, 2017. In court documents, Bachicha’s attorneys argue the shooting was purely accidental but Albuquerque Police Department detectives initially charged him with an open count of murder, followed by a grand jury indictment on a charge of first-degree murder on May 2, 2017. (Read more details about the case in the write-up.)

Second Judicial District prosecutor John Duran missed a series of deadlines and dismissed the case without prejudice on Feb. 12, 2018 and then brought a new indictment on charges of involuntary manslaughter with a firearm enhancement and tampering with evidence, on Dec. 4, 2018.

Bachicha’s attorney, Raymond Maestas, filed a motion to dismiss the firearms enhancement on Oct. 8, 2019. District Judge Daniel Ramczyk dismissed the firearms enhancement in an order on Nov. 20, 2019, following a hearing. Maestas also tried to call Duran as a witness and have the Second Judicial District Attorney’s Office removed from the case.

After Ramczyk dismissed the firearms enhancement, prosecutor Mia Ulibarri filed a motion for Ramczyk to reconsider his dismissal of the firearms enhancement on Nov. 18, 2019. He denied that request and prosecutors James Grayson and Mia Rubin then filed an interlocutory appeal of his decision on Jan. 29, 2020.

On Jan. 31, 2020, Rubin filed a motion to stay the case pending the appeal of the firearms enhancement.

Ramczyk heard that motion on Feb. 12, 2020 and orally denied the motion, but never filed a written order. On Feb. 21, 2020, Ramczyk recused himself from the case, but listed no reason.

District Judge Brett Loveless was assigned to the case on Feb. 27, 2020, after three other judges recused themselves and on March 11, 2020, Meastas again argued against the stay.

On April 17, 2020, Loveless granted the motion to stay the appeal. According to the docket, all proceedings are suspended.

“Inefficiencies may result from ruling on Defendant’s pending motions as they may dispose of the case without approval from or knowledge of the appellate court,” Loveless wrote. “This Court will not rule on those matters while the appeal is pending.”

Among the motions that are now stayed pending the appeal is a speedy trial motion Maestas filed on Jan. 10, 2020.

“In this case, the nearly three-year delay from Mr. Bachicha’s arrest on April 16, 2017 and charging to the present trial setting of March 26, 2020 (total: 1,066 days) is simply unconstitutional,” he wrote.

Also pending is a motion to suppress statements as involuntary.

No hearings or pleadings have been filed in the prosecution’s appeal of the firearm enhancement dismissal.

Continue reading “Judge stays ABQ involuntary manslaughter case for prosecution appeal”

Sentencing for double vehicular homicide in Santa Fe reset to July

• A jury found Mansoor Karimi guilty for vehicular homicide by reckless driving for the deaths of two men
• He faces a maximum sentence of 12 years

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SANTA FE, N.M. — The sentencing hearing for a Santa Fe man found guilty of killing two men in a reckless driving crash has been set for July 17, 2020, after the courts reopen for in-person hearings.

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.

According to Phaedra Haywoood of the Santa Fe New Mexican, it took the jurors less than two hours to render a verdict following the five-day trial. Another charge, of failure to render aid, was thrown out following a directed verdict.

Karimi blew through a stop sign, at the intersection of Camino Carlos Rey and Plaza Verde, at 60 to 70 mph. The speed limit was 25 mph, according to court documents.

Following the verdict, District Judge Mary Marlowe Sommer ordered Karimi be remanded into custody pending sentencing and to undergo a 60-day evaluation to determine a sentence. He faces a maximum sentence of 12 years.

Sentencing had initially been set for May 13, 2020, but Karimi’s attorney, Tom Clark, requested it be set for a day when in-person court hearings were allowed again.

“To conduct this sentencing by video and/or audio limits counsel’s ability to effectively advocate on the Defendant’s behalf,” Clark wrote.

Jury trials in the state are set to resume, on a case-by-case basis, between June 15 and July 15.

In an order dated May 18, Marlowe Sommer set the sentencing hearing for 11 a.m., July 17 in Santa Fe.

“The Court anticipates that appropriate precautionary measures to safely conduct jury trials and in-person evidentiary hearings will be in place on or about July 15, 2020,” she wrote.

Lawsuit

On April 22, 2019, Sweatt’s family filed a wrongful death lawsuit (D-101-CV-2019-01095) against Karimi and General Motors, which manufactured the Chevy Cobalt that Bryant was driving. That lawsuit is covered in this story.

To learn more about this case, please read the case write-up.

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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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Absconder warrant requested for Zuni man who killed girlfriend in DWI crash

Raylan Reano killed girlfriend Nicky Chavez in a 2016 crash outside Ramah
Judge James Parker gave Reano a 2-year sentence for killing Chavez, a mother of two
• Reano allegedly violated his probation, after release, by absconding

Read more about the case here

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Probation officers have requested a warrant for a Raylan Reano, 27, of Zuni, after he allegedly repeatedly violated the conditions of his supervised release and absconded after serving a federal prison sentence for killing his 26-year-old girlfriend Nicky Chavez in 2016.

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

After an initial hearing on May 18, 2020, where no action was taken, a following hearing on his alleged probation violation was tentatively set for May 22, but court records show there has been no more movement in the case.

Raylan Reano could spend up to another nine months in prison if his release is revoked, according to federal court documents. Reano pleaded guilty on March 13, 2018, to a single count of involuntary manslaughter and a year later, federal District Judge James 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.

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.

Federal probation officer Christopher Fiedler alleged Reano admitted to using methamphetamine and Suboxone and he tested positive for drugs on Jan. 3, 4 and 7, 2020, he wrote in a petition for a revocation of his supervised release filed March 25, 2020. He used that as a basis to request Reano have a special condition added to his sentence that he be required to live at a “residential reentry center” for up to six months. On March 16, 2020, Parker added the special condition to Reano’s sentence.

“This was in response to the defendant failing to comply with his substance abuse treatment plan,” he wrote.

Neither the request nor the condition appear on the public docket and appear to have been sealed. There is no documentation requesting they be sealed or indication how, or why, the sealing circumvented the normal rules for court filings.

Fiedler’s March 25, 2020 petition alleged that Reano didn’t call to schedule his assessment appointment for the reentry program on March 23, as ordered. He wrote:

“On March 24, 2020, this officer received notification from staff at Diersen Charities Residential Reentry Center that the defendant left their facility without permission and was considered an absconder. Later that same day, the defendant contacted this officer by phone and confirmed that he decided to leave the residential reentry center and returned back to his mother’s residence in Zuni, New Mexico.”

The federal Bureau of Prisons lists his status as an absconder.

Fiedler wrote that the revocation range is three to nine months.

Aerial panorama, Dowa Yalanne near Black Rock (left) and Zuni (right), NM, on September 9, 2019.
Aerial panorama, Dowa Yalanne near Black Rock (left) and Zuni (right), NM, on September 9, 2019. Photo by Lance Cheung/USDA/Flickr

Instead of a warrant, Reano was issued a summons to appear on a revocation hearing which, after being pushed off, was set for May 18, 2020.

During that hearing in front of Magistrate Judge Laura Fashing, Mease requested Reano be arrested, Elsenheimer requested he remain free and probation said that a second amended petition was filed and a warrant was requested, according to the minutes.

No petition appears in the public court record.

The hearing was tentatively moved to May 22, 2020 but no further filings appear in the court record after May 18, 2020. The minutes do not state if Reano was ordered detained or allowed to remain free.

Reano previously escaped from the Zuni jail, a crime that was charged in tribal court, federal prosecutor Sarah Mease wrote in a response to a sentencing memorandum.

He also attacked a fellow inmate while in the Zuni jail and on Nov. 12, 2016, a week after killing Chavez, he was found drunk and sleeping in a vehicle, Mease wrote.

Reano and Chavez were both enrolled Zuni tribal members.

Continue reading “Absconder warrant requested for Zuni man who killed girlfriend in DWI crash”

Police seek suspect in fatal Vado hit-and-run

VADO, N.M. — State Police are looking for the driver of a 1998 tan Chevrolet S-10 truck after the driver allegedly crashed into a motorcyclist, killing him, on May 14, and then fled the scene in Vado, south of Las Cruces.

A stock photo of a tan Chevy S-10 truck
State Police are looking for the driver of a 1998 Chevy S-10 truck, similar to the one pictured here.

Lt. Mark Soriano wrote in a press release the rider, Guy Hanslin, 54, of Mesquiete, died at the scene, at 10581 Los Alturas Street.

“The initial investigation shows a black 2012 Harley Davidson was traveling north on Las Alturas Street,” Soriano wrote. “The driver of a tan 1998 Chevrolet S-10 truck was traveling south on Las Alturas, and for reason unknown turned left striking the Harley Davidson head-on.”

Officers found the truck abandoned at a house in Mesquiete, but are still looking for the driver, he wrote.

Soriano wrote that anyone with information should call State Police at 575-382-2500, option 1.

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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”

Woman pleads guilty in 2019 Twin Lakes killing

  • Trudy Martinez pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter and a firearm enhancement
  • Martinez shot her sister-in-law, Cornelia McCabe, in the abdomen in Twin Lakes, in front of at least one of the woman’s children
  • She faces a minimum sentence of 10 years and a max of 15 years
  • Sentencing is tentatively set for Aug. 24, 2020

See the case write-up

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — A Twin Lakes woman pleaded guilty, March 16, 2020, to voluntary manslaughter and a firearm enhancement for shooting and killing her sister-in-law with an AR-15 in April 2019.

mug of Trudy Martinez
Trudy Martinez

Trudy Martinez, 29, of Twin Lakes, will spend at least 10 years in prison for killing Cornelia McCabe, 36, her sister-in-law. She is identified in court documents as C.M.

Martinez pleaded guilty in front of federal Magistrate Judge Paul Briones who deferred acceptance of the plea to the district judge sentencing her in the case, according to the minutes.

When she was first arrested, Federal Bureau of Investigations agents charged her with an open count of murder.

Federal prosecutor Thomas Aliberti signed the plea deal and filed the criminal information charging her with voluntary manslaughter and the firearm enhancement. Voluntary manslaughter carries a maximum sentence of 15 years while the firearm enhancement carries a minimum 10-year sentence.

According to the plea deal, Martinez intentionally killed McCabe during a sudden quarrel and therefore, without malice.

One of McCabe’s children told investigators she witnessed her mother’s killing and that Martinez first pushed her mother before going back to her truck to retrieve an AR-15 carbine, which she then loaded in the house, FBI Agent Jeffrey Wright wrote in an affidavit for an arrest warrant. McCabe is referred to as “Jane Doe” in his affidavit.

“DOE attempted to take the rifle away from Martinez,” Wright wrote. “As DOE approached MARTINEZ at the entrance to the Hogan, MARTINEZ pointed the rifle at DOE and fired the weapon two times. The first round missed DOE, but the second round struck DOE in the abdomen, after which DOE fell to the floor.”

Sentencing is tentatively scheduled for Aug. 24, 2020, at 10 a.m. in the Cimarron Courtroom in Albuquerque in front of District Court Judge William Johnson. It was moved to August after Martinez’s attorney, Irma Rivas, filed an unopposed motion to push out the sentencing date because Martinez wants her pretrial interview to be in person but the coronavirus pandemic has eliminated in-person visits at the Santa Fe County Detention Center, where she is being housed.

Continue reading “Woman pleads guilty in 2019 Twin Lakes killing”

Jodie Martinez indicted for 2019 DUI crash that killed her son

  • Jodie Martinez was allegedly impaired by methamphetamine when she crashed on July 6, 2019
  • The crash killed her son and severely injured a woman in the opposite vehicle
  • Martinez is being held without bail after waiving a detention hearing

See the case write-up

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — A federal grand jury indicted a 33-year-old woman who allegedly killed her son after crashing her car while under the influence of methamphetamine.

The grand jury indicted Jodie Martinez on charges of involuntary manslaughter and assault resulting in serious bodily injury, on Dec. 30, 2019, although she was not arrested on the warrant until Jan. 17, 2020, in Gallup, by Federal Bureau of Investigations Agent David Loos.

Dowa Yalanne is seen beyond the Veterans Memorial at Zuni, NM, on September 9, 2019.
Dowa Yalanne is seen beyond the Veterans Memorial at Zuni, NM, on September 9, 2019. Photo by Lance Cheung/USDA/Flickr

According to court records, Martinez allegedly crashed head-on into car driving the opposite direction on July 6, 2019, on State Highway 53, outside of Zuni, within the boundaries of the pueblo.  A woman in the other vehicle, a truck, suffered severe injuries and medics flew her to Albuquerque for treatment. Martinez’s son died following the crash but his age is not listed in court documents and in the indictment, he is referred to as John Doe.

The indictment alleges Martinez was under the influence of drugs when she crashed and a federal search warrant alleges she a urine test she took, following the crash, was positive for methamphetamine.

She first appeared in federal court in Albuquerque on Jan. 21, 2020, where she was ordered held without bail pending a detention hearing by federal Magistrate Judge Jerry Ritter. Federal public defender Mallory Gagan was appointed to the case and Ritter arraigned her on Jan. 22, 2020. Martinez pleaded not guilty. She does not appear to have ever been charged in federal magistrate court.

On Jan. 29, 2020, Martinez waived her right to a detention hearing and Ritter ordered her held without bail.

On Feb. 21, 2020, Gagan filed a motion to continue the case. A jury trial is tentatively set for June 8, 2020 and the case is pending.

The crash

On July 6, 2019, Martinez was driving a Ford Explorer on State Highway 53, in the Zuni pueblo, when she allegedly slammed head-on into a truck (a blue GMC Sierra) driving in the opposite direction, FBI Agent Joshua Rock wrote in an affidavit for a search warrant.

When Zuni Police Department officers arrived, they found the victim, a child, not breathing and unresponsive, either lying next to the Explorer or being held by Martinez. Rock also describes the Explorer, an SUV, as a truck. The child, Martinez’s son, is neither named nor given an age in court documents.

“The child was later pronounced dead at the scene,” Rock wrote.

Continue reading “Jodie Martinez indicted for 2019 DUI crash that killed her son”

Judge releases Arizona man to family amid the coronavirus pandemic

  • A federal district judge ordered Maroquez Clah released from an Albuquerque halfway house to his parents’ home in Red Valley, Ariz.
  • The district judge granted Clah’s appeal, overruling federal magistrate Judge Paul Briones, who refused to release him
  • Prosecutor Novaline Wilson opposed Clah’s release request in what could be an improperly sealed opposition 

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

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — A Red Valley, Ariz. man will get to return home to take care of his ailing father, help is elderly mother and raise his daughter after a federal District Court judge ordered him released from an Albuquerque halfway house, overruling a federal magistrate judge, and federal prosecutor, who wanted to keep him in a communal setting despite the risk of the coronavirus, in a ruling April 20, 2020.

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

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

Clah is charged with involuntary manslaughter for allegedly crashing his truck while drunk, which killed Darrell Chavez, 22, on Aug. 30, 2019, near Mitten Rock, New Mexico. A grand jury indicted him on Nov. 25, 2019 but he was not arrested until Feb. 14, 2020 and released to a halfway house on Feb. 20, 2020, after he was arraigned by Federal Magistrate Judge Paul Briones, and over the objection of prosecutor Novaline Wilson. (Read more on the details of the crash in the case write-up or read previous stories about the case.)

Briones denied Clah’s request to be allowed to move to Red Valley, Ariz., to take care of his parents and daughter, on April 1, 2020 and wrote in his denial that the dangers of the halfway house were justified because of Clah’s “pattern of prior conduct” and that his defense attorney 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.

Continue reading “Judge releases Arizona man to family amid the coronavirus pandemic”