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.”

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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”

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.

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Joshua Gutierrez pleads to voluntary manslaughter for To’Hajiilee shooting

  • Joshua Gutierrez  pleaded guilty ahead of a grand jury indictment
  • The plea sets his sentence at 12 years, but final acceptance is at the discretion of the sentencing judge
  • He pleaded guilty to charges of voluntary manslaughter and discharging a firearm

See past stories or the case write-up

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — A To’Hajiilee man pleaded guilty Thursday, Oct. 15, 2020, in federal court to voluntary manslaughter and discharging a firearm for fatally shooting another man in an early-morning incident on March 29, 2020, on the reservation.

Joshua Gutierrez, 21, appeared via Zoom from a Cibola County detention center before Magistrate Judge Paul Briones who accepted Gutierrez’s guilty plea to a criminal information and set sentencing before a District Court judge at an undetermined time.

According to the plea deal, it is binding and Gutierrez will be sentences to 12 years. Final acceptance of the plea was deferred until sentencing by the district court judge, according to the form minutes.

Federal agents charged Gutierrez with murder in the death of Llewyn Platero, 36, on March 30, and Gutierrez has been in detention since.

The Route 66 Casino. Photo by Ken Lund/Flickr. CC-BY-SA

Gutierrez was staying at his girlfriend’s house on March 29 in To’Hajilee when guests of his girlfriend’s father including Platero, identified as “John Doe” in charging documents, and Platero’s brother, identified as “MK” began to scuffle, Assistant U.S. Attorney Allison Jaros said. Jaros signed the plea deal.

“My girlfriend entered the room and told them to leave,” Jaros said, reading aloud the facts of the case from Gutierrez’s point of view. “Shortly thereafter I armed myself with a handgun and began walking down the hallway. John Doe exited the room. As we passed each other in the hallway, John Doe swung at me. I shot John Doe in the chest.”

Gutierrez pointed the firearm at MK and another witness, JL, telling them, “I’ll shoot you too!” according to MK, FBI agent Dibiassi Robinson’s affidavit for a criminal complaint alleged. JL allegedly told MK “he’ll do it!”

MK and JL drove Platero toward Albuquerque, dialing 911 and stopping at the Route 66 Casino, according to Robinson.

Gutierrez “fled” the house on foot, Robinson wrote, and was found at his own home 1 1/2 miles away.

Another man, JG, told Robinson that Gutierrez “confided in him that he had shot DOE,” he wrote.

“JG told GUTIERREZ to ‘lay down, the cops will be here,'” Robinson wrote.

After being read his Miranda rights, Gutierrez allegedly told investigators he shot John Doe because he attempted to “assault” him and that the gun he used was at JG’s house. A .380 caliber pistol and one spent cartridge were found at that house.

Gutierrez’s plea deal waives any claim of self-defense, Jaros said.

When Briones asked Gutierrez if he felt he had enough time to talk about the case with his public defender, Sylvia A. Baiz, Gutierrez said, “Yeah, somewhat.”

Briones asked Gutierrez several additional questions about Baiz’s representation in which Gutierrez responded positively. With the plea deal, Gutierrez waives any appeal attempts except on the grounds of his representation.

Baiz said Gutierrez reached the plea deal ahead of a grand jury indictment deadline, which she said would have brought additional charges against Gutierrez.

Jaros said Platero’s family listened into the hearing, and would speak at sentencing.

Gutierrez’s next hearing was not scheduled at the conclusion of the plea hearing.

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Wheeler Cowperthwaite contributed to this report.

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

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

See the case write-up

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

Federal District Judge Dee Benson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read the full case write-up here

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Joshua Gutierrez: Llewyn Platero — 3-29-2020

 

Summary

Joshua Gutierrez, 21, of To’Hajiilee, allegedly shot and killed Llewyn Platero, 36, on March 29, 2020, at a house on the To’Hajiilee reservation. Although he claimed the man “assaulted him,” the one eye witness did not make the same assertion, according to court documents.

On Oct. 15, 2020, he pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter. The plea deal sets his sentence at 12 years. Sentencing has not been set.

The incident

Photo of mesas
To’Hajiilee by Joel/Flickr. CC BY-NC

Federal Bureau of Investigation Agent Dibiassi Robinson was called out to the Route 66 Casino at 5:29 a.m., March 29, 2020, for a possible homicide, although a Navajo Nation criminal investigator told him the alleged killing took place on the To’Hajiilee reservation.

Robinson wrote in an affidavit for a criminal complaint that he spoke to two witnesses at the casino.

When Gutierrez spoke to investigators, he alleged he was attacked by Llewyn Platero, 36, he wrote. Platero is not identified in court records and referred to as Doe or John Doe.

Witness JL, at the casino, told investigators that he was at an acquaintance’s house when Platero and another man, identified as MK, started arguing, then fighting. JL and Gutierrez went to school together, Robinson wrote.

“Doe and MK tussled for a few minutes before CP (year of birth 1987) ordered the group to leave the residence,” Robinson wrote. “CP is the current girlfriend of GUTIERREZ.”

Platero and MK stopped briefly, then started “tussling” and being loud again, before Platero and JL headed toward the front door, he wrote.

“JL indicated that as they approached the kitchen GUTIERREZ raised a handgun up, in his right hand, and fired one shot into the chest of DOE,” Robinson wrote. “JL made no mention of an assault or attempted assault by Doe towards GUTIERREZ. While attempting to provide aid to DOE, JL explained that GUTIERREZ told him and MK to get out of the residence ‘or I’ll shoot you too!’ Gutierrez pointed the firearm at the two as he spoke those words.”

Although Robinson wrote that JL “made no mention of an assault or attempted assault by Doe,” he did not write if JL was asked about an alleged assault.

JL and MK placed pressure on the wound, loaded Platero into a car and drove toward Albuquerque. While on the way, JL called 911 while MK drove, he wrote.

They stopped at the Route 66 Casino, Robinson wrote.

MK, at the casino, told investigators that he started arguing and fighting with Doe while at an acquaintance’s house, then CP, Gutierrez’s girlfriend, ordered them to leave, he wrote.

“MK stated DOE left the room and a few seconds later he heard a pop,” Robinson wrote. “MK exited the room and went to the kitchen of the residence where he saw DOE laying on the floor. MK inquired as to what DOE had done and why GUTIERREZ had to shoot DOE. As MK attempted to provide aid to DOE, GUTIERREZ ordered the group to leave the residence ‘or I’ll shoot you too!’ Gutierrez pointed the firearm at the two as he spoke those words. JL informed MK ‘he’ll do it!'”

Robinson alleged Gutierrez “fled” the house, on foot. He was later found at his own house, 1 1/2 miles away.

Another man, JG, told Robinson that Gutierrez “confided in him that he had shot DOE,” he wrote.

“JG told GUTIERREZ to ‘lay down, the cops will be here,'” Robinson wrote.

After being read his Miranda rights, Gutierrez allegedly told investigators he shot John Doe because he attempted to “assault” him and that the gun he used was at JG’s house. A .380 caliber pistol and one spent cartridge were found at that house.

On March 31, 2020, Gutierrez appeared in Federal District Court for his initial appearance and was ordered held without bail.

The autopsy

According to the autopsy report, Platero died from a single gunshot wound. The bullet went through his heart and lungs, causing a “large amount” of bleeding in the chest cavity.

Pathologists Karen Zeigler, a fellow, and Ross Zumwalt, the medical investigator, wrote in the report that there was no soot or gunpowder stippling near the wound or on the clothing and that the firing range is “indeterminate.”

The bullet was recovered from the right back.

“The overall trajectory was front to back, left to right and slightly downward,” they wrote.

Secret records

In a June 24, 2020 unopposed motion for a protective order, federal prosecutor Allison Jaros requested public records, including the autopsy report, be kept secret and be the subject of a strict protective order.

Jaros wrote in the motion that the the agreed-to order would prevent defense attorney Sylvia Baiz from showing the public autopsy report to anyone.

In New Mexico, autopsy reports are public records.

Judge Kirtan Khalsa granted the protective order, despite the fact that autopsy reports are public records.

Plea

Gutierrez pleaded guilty Thursday, Oct. 15, 2020, in federal court to voluntary manslaughter and discharging a firearm for fatally shooting another man in an early-morning incident on March 29, 2020, on the reservation. He appeared via Zoom from a Cibola County detention center before Magistrate Judge Paul Briones who accepted Gutierrez’s guilty plea to a criminal information and set sentencing before a District Court judge at an undetermined time.

According to the plea deal, it is binding and Gutierrez will be sentences to 12 years. Final acceptance of the plea was deferred until sentencing by the district court judge, according to the form minutes.

Federal agents charged Gutierrez with murder in the death of Llewyn Platero, 36, on March 30, and Gutierrez has been in detention since.

Gutierrez was staying at his girlfriend’s house on March 29 in To’Hajilee when guests of his girlfriend’s father including Platero, identified as “John Doe” in charging documents, and Platero’s brother, identified as “MK” began to scuffle, Assistant U.S. Attorney Allison Jaros said.

“My girlfriend entered the room and told them to leave,” Jaros said, reading aloud the facts of the case from Gutierrez’s point of view. “Shortly thereafter I armed myself with a handgun and began walking down the hallway. John Doe exited the room. As we passed each other in the hallway, John Doe swung at me. I shot John Doe in the chest.”

Gutierrez’s plea deal waives any claim of self-defense, Jaros said.

When Briones asked Gutierrez if he felt he had enough time to talk about the case with his public defender, Sylvia A. Baiz, Gutierrez said, “Yeah, somewhat.”

Briones asked Gutierrez several additional questions about Baiz’s representation in which Gutierrez responded positively. With the plea deal, Gutierrez waives any appeal attempts except on the grounds of his representation.

Baiz said Gutierrez reached the plea deal ahead of a grand jury indictment deadline, which she said would have brought additional charges against Gutierrez.

Jaros said Platero’s family listened into the hearing, and would speak at sentencing.

Gutierrez’s next hearing was not scheduled at the conclusion of the plea hearing.

See the case documents on Google Drive or Document Cloud

Andrew Martinez contributed to this report

See past stories on this case

Joshua Gutierrez pleads to voluntary manslaughter for To’Hajiilee shooting

Joshua Gutierrez of To’Hajiilee charged with murder for allegedly shooting unidentified Native American man on March 29, 2020

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

  • Joey Unkestine crashed his car on Oct. 18, 2018, killing 2 people
  • Prosecutor Frederick Mendenhall set Joey Unkestine’s sentence at 3 years 10 months in a binding plea deal
  • Unkestine had a history of alcohol-related convictions
  • Mendenhall: Killing two people did not warrant a heftier sentence

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

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — On Oct. 18, 2019, the 1-year anniversary of the day he rolled his Ford Explorer, killing his girlfriend, his brother and injuring his girlfriend’s 9-year-old son, Joey Unkestine received a three year and 10 month sentence.

The sentence was no surprise. When Unkestine pleaded guilty on June 20, 2019, to two counts of involuntary manslaughter and one count of child endangerment, federal prosecutor Frederick Mendenhall had already agreed to the binding sentence when he brought it to Federal Magistrate Judge Jerry Ritter, who initially accepted the plea, but deferred final acceptance to the sentencing judge.

Ultimately, Federal District Court Judge Scott Skavdahl issued the sentence, which only carried two years of probation. Mendenhall asked for three.

According to the plea agreement and a sentencing memorandum written by Mendenhall, Unkestine crashed a 2002 Ford Explorer on Highway 53 on the Zuni Pueblo on Oct. 18, 2018, killing his girlfriend, Katherine Edaakie, his brother, Elison Unkestine, referred to in court documents as K.E. and E.U. and injuring his girlfriend’s son, referred to as D.G. His blood-alcohol level was later measured at 0.35 and he was estimated to be driving between 74 and 93 mph on a 55-mph-limit road. For comparison, the legal-per-se limit is 0.08 and above 0.40 can be fatal.

Opioids and methamphetamine were also found in his system, although he claimed he used no drugs that day. The brother and girlfriend had also been drinking while he was driving. D.G. received “only scrapes and bruises,” Mendenhall wrote.

Unkestine had several prior convictions “involving alcohol” but all of them were tribal, Mendenhall wrote.

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

Acoma Pueblo man pleas in fatal DWI crash, to get 5-8 year sentence

  • Mateo Maestas drunkenly crashed into an unidentified Laguna Pueblo woman’s car on April 19, 2019, killing her
  • The binding plea deal mandates his sentence will be between 5-8 years
  • In secret court documents, federal prosecutor Elisa Dimas asked for Maestas to receive either the maximum sentence or one greater than allowed under his plea deal

Read the full case summary

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — A 22-year-old Acoma Pueblo man is tentatively set to be sentenced on Jan. 17, 2020, for an April 2019 crash that killed a woman and injured her two children on the Laguna Pueblo.

Laguna Pueblo as seen from I-40. Photo by Ken Lund/Flickr

Mateo Maestas pleaded guilty to a single count of involuntary manslaughter on Sept. 5, 2019. According to the plea deal, accepted by federal Magistrate Judge Laura Fashing, the sentencing judge is bound to sentence Maestas to five to eight years in prison. Eight years is the maximum sentence for involuntary manslaughter. He was previously indicted on the manslaughter charge on June 12, 2019.

According to an order continuing his sentencing hearing, Federal District Court Judge James Browning is set to sentence Maestas at 8:30 a.m., Jan. 17, 2020 in Federal District Court in Albuquerque.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maestas is tentatively set to be sentenced on Jan. 17, 2020.

The details of the crash are in the case write-up.

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Continue reading “Acoma Pueblo man pleas in fatal DWI crash, to get 5-8 year sentence”

Cuba man receives 4-year sentence for beating roommate to death with a baseball bat

  • Kimsey Barboan beat his roommate with a baseball bat and left him to die
  • The binding plea deal set his sentence at 4 years and he must serve 85 percent
  • Barboan already served 1.5 years while awaiting trial

See the full case summary

BERNALILLO, N.M. — A 35-year-old Cuba man received a four-year sentence, June 17, 2019, for beating to death his roommate with a baseball bat in 2017.

Kimsey Barboan

Kimsey Barboan pleaded guilty in Bernalillo District Court to charges of voluntary manslaughter, unlawful taking of a vehicle and DWI third offense.

According to court documents, Barboan beat Anthony Martinez, 61, of Cuba on Dec. 16, 2017, and left him for dead in their home, where he was discovered two days later by a friend who was looking for work.

District Court Judge Louis McDonald accepted the plea deal, signed by prosecutor Amy Lopez Dooling, which set Barboan’s sentence at four years followed by three-and-a-half years of supervised probation. McDonald sentenced Barboan the same day, according to the provisions of the plea deal.

Because of the time he already spent in custody (1.5 years), he only has to serve just over two years in prison.

According to the plea, Barboan’s killing of Martinez was done as “a result of sufficient provocation.” Court documents do not state what Martinez did to sufficiently provoke Barboan.

Continue reading “Cuba man receives 4-year sentence for beating roommate to death with a baseball bat”

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”

John Lodgepole: Michaelene Warren — 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 Michaelene Warren, 43. Later that night he allegedly came back, threw the Warren to the ground and kicked her in the head multiple times. He staved the back of her head in with a cinderblock and beat her ankles with a cane, according to the plea deal. 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, if District Judge James Parker accepts it at sentencing. Sentencing is currently set for 3 p.m., April 14, 2021.

(Note: This story has been updated to reflect the victim’s name)

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 Michaelene Warren, identified in court documents as M.W. (YOB: 1975) or Jane Doe, when John Lodgepole threw Warren 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 Warren. As the night went on, he threw Warren to the ground and kicked her in the head.

Outside the house, investigators found a bloody metal baseball bat and shoe prints near where Warren’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 Warren’s head, including one that likely fractured her skull.

Spaeth charged Lodgepole with murder.

San Juan County Sheriff’s Corporal C. Decker wrote in an incident report that medics found Warren was dead when they arrived and it appeared brain matter coming out of the side of her head.

The woman at the house kept telling Decker that “he wouldn’t stop kicking her,” then went to find Lodgepole at the Chapter House, Decker wrote.

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.

Autopsy report

Pathologist Lori Proe and trainee Karen Zeigler wrote in the autopsy report that Warren died from blunt head trauma.

“There were broken skull bones, bleeding around the brain, bruises of the brain and swelling of the brain,” they wrote. “Other injuries included scrapes and bruises of the extremities and scrapes of the torso.”

Her blood-alcohol content was 0.25.

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 Warren “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 Warren’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.

Sentencing date set

Lodgepole is tentatively set to be sentenced at 3 p.m., April 14, 2021, by District Judge James Parker, according to a hearing notice. The hearing will be held virtually, via Zoom. No courtroom is listed on the hearing notice, entered on Feb. 10, 2021.

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

John Lodgepole to be sentenced in April for brutal killing of woman in Nenahnezad

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

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.

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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