Fruitland man to receive 6-8 years for woman’s beating death

John Lodgepole’s plea sets his sentence at 6 to 8 years
• Lodgepole wrote he punched a woman in the head 10 times, then threw her to the ground
• While she was on the ground, he grabbed a cinderblock and smashed the back of her head
• When he saw she was still breathing, he propped up her legs and beat her ankles with a cane
• Federal prosecutor Raquel Ruiz-Velez proffered the binding plea deal

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

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The Fruitland man who staved in a woman’s head with a cinderblock, then beat her ankles with a cane after he saw she was still alive, will be sentenced to 6 to 8 years for the killing, after he pleaded guilty on Nov. 3, 2020.

John Lodgepole, 21, was initially charged with murder and then indicted on a charge of voluntary manslaughter, which brings a maximum sentence of 15 years, down from the maximum sentences of life for first- and second-degree murder.

Federal prosecutor Raquel Ruiz-Velez‘s offered plea deal states Lodgepole can only be sentenced to 6 to 8 years in prison for the brutal beating death of his mother’s friend in Nenahnezad, if it is ultimately accepted by a federal district court judge. If accepted, the binding plea agreement controls the sentence range.

Magistrate Judge Steven Yarbrough accepted the plea, although he deferred final acceptance until sentencing in front of a district court judge, according to a plea minutes sheet.

Lodgepole wrote in a plea deal that he punched his mother’s friend in the head and face 10 times because she called him names and threatened him. He then threw her to the ground and then he took a cinderblock and “smashed the back of her head.” She is identified in court documents as M.W. (YOB: 1975).

“When I noticed that Jane Doe was still breathing, I took the block, placed it under her feet and used a cane to strike her ankles for approximately five or six times,” according to the plea deal.

No sentencing date has been set.

The press release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office on the plea makes no mention of the 6 to 8 year sentence.

Federal agents originally charged Lodgepole with murder after San Juan County Sheriff’s deputies found him covered in blood in the parking lot of the Chapter House, across the street from where he beat the woman to death, on Aug. 1, 2019.

His case remained sealed, despite his arrest, until 15 days after a grand jury indicted him on a charge of voluntary manslaughter on Oct. 9, 2019.

The incident

FBI Agent Jordan Spaeth wrote in an affidavit for a criminal complaint that Lodgepole’s mother, identified as E.L., told deputies she was drinking with the victim when her son threw M.W. to the ground and started kicking her in the head.

Earlier in the night, Lodgepole had been verbally abusive toward her and M.W., before he fatally attacked her, Spaeth wrote.

Outside the house, investigators found a bloody metal baseball bat and shoe prints near where M.W.’s body was found and resembled the soles of Lodgepole’s shoes.

A request for the autopsy report is pending.

Why voluntary manslaughter?

The federal charge of voluntary manslaughter is defined as the unlawful killing of someone without malice and “upon a sudden quarrel or heat of passion.” It is a downgrade from first- and second-degree murder.

According to the indictment, Lodgepole killed M.W. “upon a sudden quarrel and heat of passion, and therefore without malice.”

Lodgepole was initially charged with murder by Spaeth.

According to federal law, first-degree murder is done with “malice aforethought” and is “every murder perpetrated by poison, lying in wait, or any other kind of willful, deliberate, malicious, and premeditated killing.”

A view from the Indian Service Route 36 near Nenahnezad. Photo by Gene Selkov/Flickr. CC-BY

First-degree murder is also when someone dies “as part of a pattern or practice of assault or torture against a child or children.” In the murder statute, torture is defined as the crime of torture, except without the requirement that the torturer is doing so “under the color of law.” Under that definition, torture is an act “specifically intended to inflict severe physical or mental pain or suffering.”

In the plea deal, Lodgepole said he took the cinderblock that he used to bash the back of M.W.’s head in with, put it under the legs and beat her ankles with a cane after he saw she was still breathing.

According to federal sentencing guidelines, a judge can increase a sentence beyond the sentencing guidelines if the perpetrator’s behavior was “unusually heinous, cruel, brutal, or degrading to the victim.”

“Examples of extreme conduct include torture of a victim, gratuitous infliction of injury, or prolonging of pain or humiliation,” the guidelines state.

How the grand jury that indicted Lodgepole reached the conclusion that voluntary manslaughter was the appropriate charge is a mystery as grand juries are secret. The prosecutor’s signature on the indictment is inscrutable, although Ruiz-Velez is the only attorney listed on the docket.

However, multiple articles articulate how grand juries will follow the lead of the prosecutor presenting the case to them. In the case of Breonna Taylor, a grand juror said that homicide charges were never even presented to them.

University of Dayton Law Professor Susan Brenner wrote in a 1996 article that “the federal grand jury has become little more than a rubber stamp, indiscriminately authorizing prosecutorial decisions.”

A 2017 article in the Harvard Law Review that has no listed author opines that the failure to indict the officers who allegedly killed Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., and Eric Garner in Staten Island, N.Y., “merely drew public attention to flaws” that have been there the whole time.

“The complete prosecutorial control over the grand jury — particularly over the flow of information and grand jury procedure — solidifies the grand jury’s dependence on the prosecutor,” the anonymous author wrote.

Do you have information about this case? NM Homicide needs your assistance to tell the stories of homicide victims. Please fill out this form.

Continue reading “Fruitland man to receive 6-8 years for woman’s beating death”

Man set to plea in Nenahnezad beating death

• A change of plea hearing is set for Nov. 3, 2020
John Lodgepole was initially charged with murder for kicking a woman in the head, killing her, before he was indicted on a charge of voluntary manslaughter

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

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — A 21-year-old Fruitland man, accused of kicking a woman in the head and killing her in Nenahnezad, is set to plead on Nov. 3, 2020.

John Lodgepole‘s case is set for a change of plea hearing at 10 a.m., Nov. 3, 2020, according to a court docket.

Lodgepole was first arrested, and charged with murder, on Aug. 1, 2019, the night he allegedly kicked a woman in the head repeatedly, killing her. His case remained sealed, despite his arrest, until 15 days after a grand jury indicted him on a charge of voluntary manslaughter on Oct. 9, 2019.

A view from the Indian Service Route 36 near Nenahnezad. Photo by Gene Selkov/Flickr.

The indictment alleged he killed the woman “upon a sudden quarrel and heat of passion, and therefore without malice, unlawfully.” She is only identified by the initials M.W. and her year of birth, 1975. She is identified as a Navajo Nation member.

The change of plea hearing will be conducted through Zoom and in front of Federal Magistrate Judge Steven Yarbrough.

Lodgepole has previously pleaded no contest in a state case to two counts of battery on a healthcare worker, where he was to receive a conditional discharge after finishing probation. After he was arrested and charged with murder, he admitted to a probation violation and was sentenced to 319 days in prison, according to state court documents.

The incident

San Juan County Sheriff’s deputies responded on Aug. 1, 2019, to a house south of the Chapter House in Nenahnezad, after the owner called 911, Federal Bureau of Investigations Agent Jordan Spaeth wrote in an affidavit for a criminal complaint.

The homeowner, identified by her initials of E.L., told deputies she was drinking with the victim, M.W., when Lodgepole threw M.W. to the ground and started kicking her in the head, he wrote.

When investigators spoke to E.L., she said Lodgepole arrived at the house earlier that night and was verbally abusive toward her and M.W. As the night went on, he threw M.W. to the ground and kicked her in the head, he wrote.

“Lodgepole then fled the residence and E.L. contacted 911,” Spaeth wrote. “Deputies were notified a short time after arrival that Jane Doe was pronounced dead at the scene by Emergency Medical Personnel.”

Deputies found Lodgepole in the parking lot of the chapter house. He was covered in blood. They detained him and Navajo Police officers arrested him when they arrived on scene, he wrote.

Outside the house, investigators found a bloody metal baseball bat and shoe prints near where M.W.’s body was found and resembled the soles of Lodgepole’s shoes, he wrote.

The field investigator with the Office of the Medical Investigator found three wounds to M.W.’s head, including one that likely fractured her skull, he wrote.

Spaeth charged Lodgepole with murder.

Continue reading “Man set to plea in Nenahnezad beating death”

Trial in Nenahnezad beating death postponed for third time

  • FBI agents originally charged John Lodgepole with murder for allegedly killing a woman by repeatedly kicking her in the head on Aug. 1, 2019
  • Despite being arrested, his case was sealed until a day before he was arraigned on an indictment for voluntary manslaughter
  • His case has been postponed three times already

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

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — John Lodgepole‘s trial on a charge of voluntary manslaughter for the alleged Aug. 1, 2019 beating death of a woman in Nenahnezad has been tentatively set for June 1, 2020.

A view from the Indian Service Route 36 near Nenahnezad. Photo by Gene Selkov/Flickr.

Lodgepole was first arrested, and charged with murder, on Aug. 1, 2019, the night he allegedly kicked a woman in the head repeatedly, killing her.

A federal grand jury indicted Lodgepole, 20, on a charge of voluntary manslaughter on Oct. 9, 2019, alleging “upon a sudden quarrel and heat of passion, and therefore without malice, unlawfully” killed a woman only identified by the initials M.W. (YOB: 1975).

Since he was arraigned on Oct. 28 by Magistrate Judge Kirtan Khalsa, his case has been continued three times at the request of his defense attorney, Melissa Morris. He pleaded not guilty during that hearing and waived a detention hearing.

A trial is tentatively set for June 1, 2020, per a court order to continue on March 10, 2020, but in her motion to continue the case, Morris wrote she has not begun plea negotiations with prosecutor Raquel Ruiz-Velez.

The incident

San Juan County Sheriff’s deputies responded on Aug. 1, 2019, to a house south of the Chapter House in Nenahnezad, after the owner called 911, Federal Bureau of Investigations Agent Jordan Spaeth wrote in an affidavit for a criminal complaint.

The homeowner, identified by her initials of E.L., told deputies she was drinking with the victim, M.W., when Lodgepole threw M.W. to the ground and started kicking her in the head, he wrote.

When investigators spoke to E.L., she said Lodgepole arrived at the house earlier that night and was verbally abusive toward her and M.W. As the night went on, he threw M.W. to the ground and kicked her in the head.

Continue reading “Trial in Nenahnezad beating death postponed for third time”

John Lodgepole: M.W., YOB 1975 — 8-1-2019

 

Summary

On Aug. 1, 2019, John Lodgepole allegedly went to the house of a woman he knew in Nenahnezad, near Fruitland, and became verbally abusive toward her and another woman. Later that night he allegedly came back, threw the victim, M.W. (YOB: 1975) to the ground and kicked her in the head multiple times. Investigators found a bloody bat near the scene, according to an affidavit for a criminal complaint.

San Juan County Sheriff’s deputies found Lodgepole in the parking lot of a chapter house across the street from the house, covered in blood. He was initially charged with murder, according to the complaint. The case was sealed, despite Lodgepole’s arrest, according to the court docket.

On Oct. 9, 2019, a federal grand jury indicted Lodgepole on a charge of voluntary manslaughter and he was arraigned on Oct. 25. The case was unsealed a day earlier.

On Nov. 3, 2020, Lodgepole pleaded guilty to a single count of voluntary manslaughter. The plea deal sets his sentence at 6 to 8 years, is the district court judge accepts it at sentencing. No further hearings have been set.

The incident

San Juan County Sheriff’s deputies responded on Aug. 1, 2019, to a house south of the Chapter House in Nenahnezad, after the owner called 911, Federal Bureau of Investigations Agent Jordan Spaeth wrote in an affidavit for a criminal complaint.

A view from the Indian Service Route 36 near Nenahnezad. Photo by Gene Selkov/Flickr.

The homeowner, identified by her initials of E.L., told deputies she was drinking with the victim, identified in court documents as M.W. (YOB: 1975) or Jane Doe, when John Lodgepole threw M.W. to the ground and started kicking her in the head, he wrote.

“Lodgepole then fled the residence and E.L. contacted 911,” Spaeth wrote. “Deputies were notified a short time after arrival that Jane Doe was pronounced dead at the scene by Emergency Medical Personnel.”

Deputies found Lodgepole in the parking lot of the chapter house. He was covered in blood, he wrote.

Deputies detained him and Navajo Police officers arrested him when they arrived on scene, he wrote.

When investigators spoke to E.L., she said Lodgepole arrived at the house earlier that night and was verbally abusive toward her and M.W. As the night went on, he threw M.W. to the ground and kicked her in the head.

Outside the house, investigators found a bloody metal baseball bat and shoe prints near where M.W.’s body was found and resembled the soles of Lodgepole’s shoes.

The field investigator with the Office of the Medical Investigator found three wounds to M.W.’s head, including one that likely fractured her skull.

Spaeth charged Lodgepole with murder.

The plea deal offers a slightly different set of facts than what investigators initially found.

Lodgepole wrote in the plea deal that he punched his mother’s friend in the head and face 10 times because she called him names and threatened him. After throwing her to the ground, he took a cinderblock and “smashed the back of her head.”

“When I noticed that Jane Doe was still breathing, I took the block, placed it under her feet and used a cane to strike her ankles for approximately five or six times,” according to the plea deal.

Indictment

Although Lodgepole was arrested on Aug. 1, the court docket does not show that he was ever arraigned or assigned a lawyer until two months later, when prosecutors indicted him, on Oct. 9.

The complaint for his arrest, and the entire case, appears to have been sealed until Oct. 24, 2019, the day before he was arraigned on the indicted charge of voluntary manslaughter, a downgrade from murder.

On Oct. 25, 2019, in Albuquerque, federal Magistrate Judge Paul Briones ordered Lodgepole held without bail and on Oct. 28, Magistrate Judge Kirtan Khalsa arraigned him. Lodgepole pleaded not guilty and his lawyer, Melissa Morris, waived a detention hearing.

Nothing in the court record indicates why Lodgepole would have been arrested, and held without bail, without being arraigned or assigned an attorney, or why the case would have been sealed, even though he was arrested.

Court delays

Since the arraignment, Lodgepole’s case has been continued three times. Once on Oct. 30, 2019, once on Jan. 13, 2020 and once on March 10, 2020.

According to Morris’ third motion for a continuance, filed March 6, 2020, plea negotiations had not begun in the case.

Plea deal

On Nov. 3, 2020, Lodgepole pleaded guilty to a single count of voluntary manslaughter in front of Magistrate Judge Steven Yarbrough.

Federal prosecutor Raquel Ruiz-Velez‘s offered plea deal states Lodgepole can only be sentenced to 6 to 8 years in prison for the brutal beating death if it is ultimately accepted by a federal district court judge.

Magistrate Judge Steven Yarbrough accepted the plea, although he deferred final acceptance until sentencing in front of a district court judge, according to a plea minutes sheet.

Lodgepole wrote in a plea deal that he punched his mother’s friend in the head and face 10 times because she called him names and threatened him. After throwing her to the ground, he took a cinderblock and “smashed the back of her head.”

“When I noticed that Jane Doe was still breathing, I took the block, placed it under her feet and used a cane to strike her ankles for approximately five or six times,” according to the plea deal.

Why voluntary manslaughter?

The federal charge of voluntary manslaughter is defined as the unlawful killing of someone without malice and “upon a sudden quarrel or heat of passion.” It is a downgrade from first- and second-degree murder.

According to the indictment, Lodgepole killed M.W. “upon a sudden quarrel and heat of passion, and therefore without malice.”

Lodgepole was initially charged with murder by Spaeth.

According to federal law, first-degree murder is done with “malice aforethought” and is “every murder perpetrated by poison, lying in wait, or any other kind of willful, deliberate, malicious, and premeditated killing.”

First-degree murder is also when someone dies “as part of a pattern or practice of assault or torture against a child or children.” In the murder statute, torture is defined as the crime of torture, except without the requirement that the torturer is doing so “under the color of law.” Under that definition, torture is an act “specifically intended to inflict severe physical or mental pain or suffering.”

In the plea deal, Lodgepole said he took the cinderblock that he used to bash the back of M.W.’s head in with, put it under the legs and beat her ankles with a cane after he saw she was still breathing.

According to federal sentencing guidelines, a judge can increase a sentence beyond the sentencing guidelines if the perpetrator’s behavior was “unusually heinous, cruel, brutal, or degrading to the victim.”

“Examples of extreme conduct include torture of a victim, gratuitous infliction of injury, or prolonging of pain or humiliation,” the guidelines state.

How the grand jury that indicted Lodgepole reached the conclusion that voluntary manslaughter was the appropriate charge is a mystery as grand juries are secret. The prosecutor’s signature on the indictment is inscrutable, although Ruiz-Velez is the only attorney listed on the docket.

However, multiple articles articulate how grand juries will follow the lead of the prosecutor presenting the case to them. In the case of Breonna Taylor, a grand juror said that homicide charges were never even presented to them.

University of Dayton Law Professor Susan Brenner wrote in a 1996 article that “the federal grand jury has become little more than a rubber stamp, indiscriminately authorizing prosecutorial decisions.”

A 2017 article in the Harvard Law Review that has no listed author opines that the failure to indict the officers who allegedly killed Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., and Eric Garner in Staten Island, N.Y., “merely drew public attention to flaws” that have been there the whole time.

“The complete prosecutorial control over the grand jury — particularly over the flow of information and grand jury procedure — solidifies the grand jury’s dependence on the prosecutor,” the anonymous author wrote.

Do you have information about this case? NM Homicide needs your assistance to tell the stories of homicide victims. Please fill out this form.

See the case documents on Google Drive or Document Cloud

Past stories

Fruitland man to receive 6-8 years for woman’s beating death

Man set to plea in Nenahnezad beating death

Trial in Nenahnezad beating death postponed for third time