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

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

See the full case summary or past stories on the case

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The stabbing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Sentencing date set for Zachariah Joe in stabbing death a year after guilty plea

See the full case summary or past stories on the case

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Over a year after he pleaded guilty to stabbing his cousin 10 times, as he begged for him to stop, Zachariah Joe will be sentenced to 15 years in prison during a virtual hearing in January 2021.

Joe, 28, of Shiprock, is set be virtually sentenced at 3 p.m., Jan. 14, 2021 in the Vermejo courtroom in Albuquerque by District Judge James Browning.

He pleaded guilty on Oct. 31, 2019, to a criminal information charging him with second-degree murder for Brett Micah Morgan’s death, offered by federal prosecutor David Cowen. Joe admitted to stabbing Morgan 10 times in the chest and neck. The plea deal mandates Morgan’s sentence will be 15 years, assuming Browning accepts the plea.

Browning’s only discretion will be in how long Morgan will be on supervised release after serving his prison sentence. Magistrate Judge Kirtan Khalsa initially accepted the plea in October 2019.

Cowen and Joe’s attorney, Melissa Morris, both wrote sentencing memorandums although did not order a pre-sentence report be completed.

Joe will appear remotely for the hearing.

The stabbing

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

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

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

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

Sentencing memorandums

Cowen and Morris both submitted sentencing memorandums imploring Browning to accept the binding plea deal, which mandates a sentence of 15 years for Joe.

Cowen wrote in his sentencing memorandum that Morgan was Joe’s close friend, and cousin, and that his death was “completely avoidable,” although he never specifies how it was avoidable. At the onset of the case, he worked with Morris to “investigate what took place with the goal of working towards a reasonable outcome.”

Cowen wrote that the sentencing guidelines for Joe put his sentence much higher, at just under 20 to to 24 years, but the decrease in sentence will avoid a trial. He wrote:

The proposed plea agreement avoids forcing the victim’s family, who is also Defendant’s extended family, to testify about the facts outlined above. One of the victim’s family members voiced an opinion that the family did not agree with the stipulated 15-year sentence, PSR ¶ 102, but in finalizing the plea agreement the government received support to resolve the case with this proposed 15-year sentence from the victim’s mother and stepfather. This support naturally came with emotion and a realization that no term of imprisonment would bring the victim back to the family.

The plea and 15-year sentence will allow the victim’s family “an opportunity to reconnect with the Defendant’s side of the family,” Cowen wrote.

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

Joe’s familial history was a childhood of physical abuse perpetrated by his alcoholic father, he wrote.

“According to Defendant’s mother, he unfortunately inherited his father’s tendency to become angry when he drinks alcohol,” Cowen wrote.

Joe had a history of misdemeanor convictions from age 18 to 21, which appear to be two drunk driving arrests and a charge of assault on an officer. He was never convicted of a felony but the convictions gave him a criminal history category of IV, he wrote.

Morris wrote in her sentencing memorandum for Joe that he has been drinking since he was 13 and when he drinks, “his personality changes and he sometimes does things that he would not do otherwise.”

Although his family is “saddened and confused by his actions,” they are still supportive of him. Joe never intended to kill his cousin and does not know how the events leading up to his brutal stabbing resulted in it, she wrote.

“Mr. Joe respectfully submits that this offense, like every other criminal offense he committed in the past, is the product of the disease of alcoholism, which in turn may be the product of his traumatic childhood experiences and his family history of alcoholism,” Morris wrote.

Morris submitted a packet of seven letters on Joe’s behalf, dated around December 2019.

  • Joe’s maternal aunt, Fremina Funmaker, submitted a letter on behalf of Joe and asked that the judge make a decision that “will allow him to seek mental well-being and self-development through sentencing.”
  • Aunt Tiva Esplain wrote that Joe is not a violent person and he has made large and small mistakes in the past and that alcohol caused him to stab his cousin 10 times.
  • Cousin Jerilyn Frank wrote that Joe is one of the “funny guys” and has a contagious laugh.
  • Joe’s mother, Miranda Begay, wrote that Joe and Morgan were “two peas in a pod” and there was not a day that went by when they had not communicated with each other. Without access to alcohol, Morgan would have never died.

 

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

Continue reading “Sentencing date set for Zachariah Joe in stabbing death a year after guilty plea”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sentencing memos

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sentencing guidelines

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

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

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

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

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

The crash

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

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

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

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

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

Plea: 18 to 24 months for Zuni woman who killed son in meth-related crash

Jodie Martinez will receive 18 months to 2 years for killing her son and severely injuring a woman in a likely DWI crash
• The plea, offered by prosecutor Raquel Ruiz-Velez, still has to be accepted by a district judge at sentencing
• Martinez only pleaded guilty to injuring the woman and not to killing her son

See the case write-up

ZUNI, N.M. — A Zuni woman who crashed into a truck, killing her 9-year-old son and severely injuring a woman, will get just 18 months to two years in prison following an agreement with federal prosecutors to limit her sentence.

Jodie Martinez, 33, was indicted for involuntary manslaughter under the theory she was high on a drug, ostensibly methamphetamine, when she crashed into a truck headed in the opposite direction on July 6, 2019. She was also indicted on a charge of assault resulting in serious bodily injury. Her son, Christian Molina, 9, died in the crash.

Jodie Martinez/Santa Fe County Detention Center

On Aug. 3, 2020, Martinez pleaded guilty to a single charge of assault resulting in serious bodily injury. Federal Magistrate Judge Laura Fashing accepted the plea but deferred final acceptance until sentencing in front of a district court judge.

Martinez tested positive for methamphetamine two successive days after the crash, although she did not admit in the plea to using methamphetamine directly before.

Federal prosecutor Raquel Ruiz-Velez put forward the plea and binding agreement as to the sentence.

According to the plea Ruiz-Velez offered, a sentence of 18 months to 2 years is the “appropriate disposition.” It takes into account Martinez’s “acceptance of responsibility” and states her sentence should not be further decreased.

Although Fashing deferred final acceptance of the plea agreement, assuming it is accepted, the sentence of 18 months to 2 years will be binding, pursuant to Rule 11(c)(1)(C).

The entire hearing in front of Fashing, on Aug. 3, took 27 minutes. Minutes of the plea hearing make no mention of how the victims of the crash felt about the binding plea deal.

No sentencing date has been set.

FBI Agent David Loos arrested her on a warrant on Jan. 17, 2020. Federal Magistrate Judge Jerry Ritter ordered Martinez held without bail after a first appearance on Jan. 21, 2020 and she waived a detention hearing on Jan. 29, 2020.

She has been held without bail since her Jan. 17, 2020 arrest.

The crash

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

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

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

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

Accepting responsibility

Although Martinez ostensibly took responsibility by taking a plea and admitting to causing her son’s death, she is only pleading guilty to injuring the unidentified woman in the opposing vehicle and the admission of facts does not say why the crash happened, or what caused it. Martinez wrote that she “merged” into the lane for oncoming traffic, crashing into a truck traveling in the opposite direction and as a consequence, Molina died.

The admission of facts outlines most of the narrative in the affidavit for a search warrant including:

  • Martinez told the police officers who first responded that she fell asleep at the wheel
  • Police found methamphetamine in her vehicle
  • She told federal agents, after she was discharged from the hospital, that she used methamphetamine four days prior to the crash
  • She told those agents she was talking to her mother on the phone before the crash, dropped it when she hung up, went to pick it up and when she looked up, she was in the opposing lane
  • She tested positive for methamphetamine on July 7 and July 8, 2019, two and three days after the crash, respectively

Martinez does not write what actually happened, or what actually caused the crash, in the plea deal. Nor did she say what happened in her response to the civil lawsuit filed to make sure she received none of the insurance money from Molina’s death, calling what happened an “error in judgement.”

Insurance settlement

The father of Martinez’s son, Samuel Molina, filed a lawsuit against Martinez over the insurance payout from their son’s death, on Aug. 12, 2020.

Samuel Molina’s attorney, Brian Grayson, wrote in the complaint for declaratory judgement on the wrongful death recovery proceeds.

Samuel Molina, appointed the personal representative for his son’s estate, received a $50,000 settlement from an unspecified insurance policy, according to the complaint. The lawsuit filed in August was to declare that Martinez was not entitled to any of that money.

Martinez “abandoned” Christian Molina under New Mexico law and because she caused his death, she was not entitled to any of the insurance proceeds under the Unlawful Acts Doctrine, Grayson wrote.

In a hand-written response filed Sept. 14, 2020, Martinez wrote that she was not opposed to Samuel Molina receiving the insurance payment for their son’s death.

“I am opposed to signing a document implying that I abandoned our son,” Martinez wrote. “There are statements made in the Declaratory Judgement that are inaccurate and quite frankly false. At the time Samuel and I shared custody through a mutual agreement due to our separation. I was not an absent parent.”

It is not clear what “inaccurate” or “quite frankly false” statements Martinez objected to. The complaint for declaratory judgement makes no mention of custody arrangements.

“Unfortunately, and with my deepest regret, I had an error in judgement which I will have to live with for the rest of my life,” Martinez wrote. “No amount of financial gain will every satisfy the tremendous loss we have experienced.

Martinez wrote she refused to “sign any document implicating the termination of parental rights, the abandonment of my son Christian Molina, or any other demeaning allegations.”

On Sept. 22, 2020, Grayson filed a notice of dismissal with prejudice because “all matters in controversy have been compromised and resolved,” even though Martinez “strongly denies the claims and allegations made in the Complaint for Declaratory Judgement.”

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 files on Google Drive or on Document Cloud. Read more stories on this case or peruse the case write-up.

Continue reading “Plea: 18 to 24 months for Zuni woman who killed son in meth-related crash”

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

Update: Jodie Martinez’s son has been identified as Christian Molina, 9.

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”

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

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

See the full case summary

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

Shiprock Pinnacle. Photo by DiAnn L’Roy/Flickr

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

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

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

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

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

Jodie Martinez: Christian Molina — 7-6-2019

 

Summary

On July 6, 2019, Jodie Martinez, 33, allegedly slammed head-on into a truck on State Highway 53, outside Zuni. The crash killed her son, Christian Molina, 9, and left a woman in the opposite vehicle with severe injuries. Martinez allegedly tested positive for methamphetamine and allegedly admitted to using meth four days before the crash, according to an affidavit for a search warrant.

Although she was initially arrested by Zuni Police Department officers, she was not charged federally until she was indicted on Dec. 30, 2019, on charges of involuntary manslaughter and assault resulting in serious bodily injury.

On Aug. 3, 2020, Martinez pleaded guilty to the assault charge. Her binding plea deal, proffered by prosecutor Raquel Ruiz-Velez and accepted by federal Magistrate Judge Laura Fashing sets her sentence at 18 months to 2 years.

On Nov. 20, 2020, federal District Judge Kea Riggs accepted the plea and sentenced her to 2 years in prison.

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The crash

On July 6, 2019, Jodie Martinez, 33, 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.

Jodie Martinez/Santa Fe County Detention Center

When Zuni Police Department officers arrived, they found the Christian Molina, 9, 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. Molina, Martinez’s son, is neither named nor given an age in court documents.

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

Martinez’s boyfriend, identified as C.R., was also in the Explorer when it crashed while Martinez’s son was in the rear passenger-side seat. Rock does not write how old the boy was. In the search warrant, Rock refers to Martinez as “J.M.” with a year of birth of 1986.

The driver of the truck allegedly Martinez crashed into received minor injuries while the passenger, his wife, “sustained serious injuries and was flown to Albuquerque, NM for medical treatment,” Rock wrote.

Rock wrote that Martinez allegedly told officers at the scene and investigators, later, two different stories about how the crash happened.

Rock wrote:

“J.M. told the officers she had fallen asleep at the wheel while driving westbound on Highway 53. When she woke up, she was in the opposite lane of travel. J.M. saw a blue pickup truck travelling in the opposite direction and tried to avoid the vehicle but was unable to react in time causing her to crash into the vehicle.”

Her story allegedly changed. Rock wrote:

“In a subsequent interview, J.M. stated a cell phone fell. J.M. reached down to pick it up and looked up and saw a truck coming. J.M. stated the truck was just there, there was no avoiding it.”

In an interview with Agent David Loos, both Martinez and her boyfriend allegedly admitted to using methamphetamine at least four days before the accident. Zuni police officers arrested Martinez, collected her urine and it tested positive for methamphetamine.

Zuni Police officers also searched the SUV and found a green backpack that had an alleged homemade pipe with burn residue.

 

Indicted, held without bail

Martinez was never charged with the Molina’s death in federal magistrate court. Instead, a federal grand jury indicted her on charges of involuntary manslaughter and assault resulting in serious bodily injury on Dec. 30, 2019. The case was not entered into digital court records until Jan. 9.

Molina is referred to as “John Doe” in the indictment.

According to the indictment, Martinez was driving while under the influence of drugs when she crashed.

Following the indictment, she was arrested on Jan. 17, 2020, in Gallup, by Loos, according to the arrest warrant.

She first appeared in court 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.

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.

Plea deal

Martinez pleaded guilty on Aug. 3, 2020, to a single count of assault causing great bodily harm. Federal Magistrate Judge Laura Fashing accepted the plea but deferred final acceptance until sentencing in front of a district court judge. The plea sets her sentence at 18 to 24 months.

Federal prosecutor Raquel Ruiz-Velez put forward the plea and agreement to sentence.

According to the plea Ruiz-Velez offered, a sentence of 18 months to 2 years is the “appropriate disposition.” It takes into account Martinez’s “acceptance of responsibility” and states her sentence should not be further decreased.

Although Fashing deferred final acceptance of the plea agreement, assuming it is accepted, the sentence of 18 months to 2 years will be binding, pursuant to Rule 11(c)(1)(C).

The entire hearing in front of Fashing took 27 minutes.

No sentencing date has been set.

Accepting responsibility

Although Martinez ostensibly took responsibility by taking a plea and admitting to causing her son’s death, she is only pleading guilty to injury the unidentified woman in the opposing vehicle and the admission of facts does not say why the crash happened. She wrote that she “merged” into the lane for oncoming traffic, crashing into a truck traveling in the opposite direction and as a consequence, Christian Molina died.

The admission of facts outlines most of the narrative in the affidavit for a search warrant including:

  • Martinez told the police officers who first responded that she fell asleep at the wheel
  • Police found methamphetamine in her vehicle
  • She told federal agents, after she was discharged from the hospital, that she used methamphetamine four days prior to the crash
  • That she told those agents she was talking to her mother on the phone before the crash, dropped it when she hung up, went to pick it up and when she looked up, she was in the opposing lane
  • That she tested positive for methamphetamine on July 7 and July 8, 2019, two and three days after the crash, respectively

Martinez does not write what actually happened, or what actually caused the crash, in the plea deal. Nor does she say what happened in her response in the civil case, calling what happened an “error in judgement.”

Sentencing memos

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sentencing guidelines

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

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

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

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

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

Sentence

On Nov. 20, 2020, Federal District Judge Kea Riggs accepted the binding plea deal, proffered by prosecutor Ruiz-Velez, and sentenced her to two years in prison during a hearing on Nov. 20, 2020. She said there will be a “zero-tolerance policy for substance abuse” during her three years of supervised release following her release from person, according to a minutes sheet.

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

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

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

Insurance settlement

The father of Martinez’s son, Samuel Molina, filed a lawsuit against Martinez over the insurance payout from their son’s death, on Aug. 12, 2020.

Samuel Molina’s attorney, Brian Grayson, wrote in the complaint for declaratory judgement on the wrongful death recovery proceeds.

Samuel Molina, appointed the personal representative for his son’s estate, received a $50,000 settlement from an unspecified insurance policy. The lawsuit filed in August was to declare that Martinez was not entitled to any of that money.

Martinez “abandoned” Christian Molina under New Mexico law and because she caused his death, she was not entitled to any of the insurance proceeds under the Unlawful Acts Doctrine, Grayson wrote.

In a hand-written response filed Sept. 14, 2020, Martinez wrote that she was not opposed to Samuel Molina receiving the insurance payment for their son’s death.

“I am opposed to signing a document implying that I abandoned our son,” Martinez wrote. “There are statements made in the Declaratory Judgement that are inaccurate and quite frankly false. At the time Samuel and I shared custody through a mutual agreement due to our separation. I was not an absent parent.”

It is not clear what “inaccurate” or “quite frankly false” statements Martinez objected to. The complaint for declaratory judgement makes no mention of custody arrangements.

“Unfortunately, and with my deepest regret, I had an error in judgement which I will have to live with for the rest of my life,” Martinez wrote. “No amount of financial gain will every satisfy the tremendous loss we have experienced.

Martinez wrote she refused to “sign any document implicating the termination of parental rights, the abandonment of my son Christian Molina, or any other demeaning allegations.”

On Sept. 22, 2020, Grayson filed a notice of dismissal with prejudice because “all matters in controversy have been compromised and resolved,” even though Martinez “strongly denies the claims and allegations made in the Complaint for Declaratory Judgement.”

See the case files on Google Drive or on Document Cloud.

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Previous stories

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

Jodie Martinez indicted for 2019 DUI crash that killed her son

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

 

Summary

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

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

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

No more hearings have been set in the case.

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The incident

Shiprock. Photo by Bowie Snodgrass/Flickr

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Autopsy report

According to the autopsy report by pathologist Matthew Cain, Morgan has 10 “sharp force injuries” to the head and torso.

“Several stab wounds to the torso injured ribs, lungs, liver, and heart – lethal injuries,” Cain wrote. “A stab wound of the neck injured soft tissue and neck muscle but the spinal cord was uninvolved.”

Two of the stab wounds “injured” the small bowel and Morgan also suffered from blunt trauma, including abrasions, skin tears and bruises in the face, torso and his arms and legs. He died from his stab wounds.

Plea and possible sentence

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sentencing date set

Over a year after he pleaded guilty to second-degree murder, Joe will be sentenced to 15 years in prison during a virtual hearing at 3 p.m., Jan. 14, 2021 in the Vermejo courtroom in Albuquerque by District Judge James Browning.

Browning’s only discretion will be in how long Morgan will be on supervised release after serving his prison sentence. Magistrate Judge Kirtan Khalsa initially accepted the plea in October 2019.

Sentencing memorandums

Cowen and Morris both submitted sentencing memorandums imploring Browning to accept the binding plea deal, which mandates a sentence of 15 years for Joe.

Cowen wrote in his sentencing memorandum that Morgan was Joe’s close friend, and cousin, and that his death was “completely avoidable,” although he never specifies how it was avoidable. At the onset of the case, he worked with Morris to “investigate what took place with the goal of working towards a reasonable outcome.”

Cowen wrote that the sentencing guidelines for Joe put his sentence much higher, at just under 20 to to 24 years, but the decrease in sentence will avoid a trial. He wrote:

The proposed plea agreement avoids forcing the victim’s family, who is also Defendant’s extended family, to testify about the facts outlined above. One of the victim’s family members voiced an opinion that the family did not agree with the stipulated 15-year sentence, PSR ¶ 102, but in finalizing the plea agreement the government received support to resolve the case with this proposed 15-year sentence from the victim’s mother and stepfather. This support naturally came with emotion and a realization that no term of imprisonment would bring the victim back to the family.

The plea and 15-year sentence will allow the victim’s family “an opportunity to reconnect with the Defendant’s side of the family,” Cowen wrote.

Joe’s familial history was a childhood of physical abuse perpetrated by his alcoholic father, he wrote.

“According to Defendant’s mother, he unfortunately inherited his father’s tendency to become angry when he drinks alcohol,” Cowen wrote.

Joe had a history of misdemeanor convictions from age 18 to 21, which appear to be two drunk driving arrests and a charge of assault on an officer. He was never convicted of a felony but the convictions gave him a criminal history category of IV, he wrote.

Morris wrote in her sentencing memorandum for Joe that he has been drinking since he was 13 and when he drinks, “his personality changes and he sometimes does things that he would not do otherwise.”

Although his family is “saddened and confused by his actions,” they are still supportive of him. Joe never intended to kill his cousin and does not know how the events leading up to his brutal stabbing resulted in it, she wrote.

“Mr. Joe respectfully submits that this offense, like every other criminal offense he committed in the past, is the product of the disease of alcoholism, which in turn may be the product of his traumatic childhood experiences and his family history of alcoholism,” Morris wrote.

Morris submitted a packet of seven letters on Joe’s behalf, dated around December 2019.

  • Joe’s maternal aunt, Fremina Funmaker, submitted a letter on behalf of Joe and asked that the judge make a decision that “will allow him to seek mental well-being and self-development through sentencing.”
  • Aunt Tiva Esplain wrote that Joe is not a violent person and he has made large and small mistakes in the past and that alcohol caused him to stab his cousin 10 times.
  • Cousin Jerilyn Frank wrote that Joe is one of the “funny guys” and has a contagious laugh.
  • Joe’s mother, Miranda Begay, wrote that Joe and Morgan were “two peas in a pod” and there was not a day that went by when they had not communicated with each other. Without access to alcohol, Morgan would have never died.

Sentenced

On Jan. 14, 2021, Browning sentenced Joe to 15 years, per the plea agreement, followed by three years supervised release. He also ordered Joe pay Morgan’s family $6,546 in restitution.

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

Past stories

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

Sentencing date set for Zachariah Joe in stabbing death a year after guilty plea

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