Arizona man pleads to involuntary manslaughter without deal in DWI killing

Maroquez Clah pleaded guilty without a plea deal
• He faces a maximum sentence of eight years for killing Darrel Chavez, 22

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

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Maroquez Clah pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter, Sept. 21,  for killing his friend in a drunk driving crash near Mitten Rock.

Clah, 28, of Red Valley, Ariz., pleaded guilty without a plea agreement and he faces a maximum sentence of eight years for the Aug. 30, 2019 crash that killed Darrell Chavez, 22.

Panoramic photo of Red Valley, Arizona, with no buildings in sight.
Red Valley, about a mile west of the New Mexico state line, 36.5845 -109.0732, Apache County, Arizona, 5/17/2014. Photo by Patrick Alexander/Flickr. CC BY-NC-SA

According to the plea minute sheet, Magistrate Judge John Robbenhaar accepted the plea. Robbenhaar allowed Clah to remain on his current conditions of release. He is living with his parents in Red Valley.

According to a proffer of evidence at trial filed by federal prosecutor Novaline Wilson, Clah acted with “wanton and reckless disregard for human life” when he drove drunk.

No sentencing date has been set.

A grand jury indicted Clah on a charge of involuntary manslaughter on Nov. 25, 2019 for crashing his truck while drunk near Mitten Rock, killing Chavez. He was not arrested until Feb. 14, 2020.  Federal Magistrate Judge Paul Briones released him to a halfway house over the objection of prosecutor Wilson. Briones refused to release him to his home in Red Valley to help his ailing parents amid the coronavirus pandemic. Federal District Court Judge Kea Riggs overruled Briones and ordered him released on April 20, 2020.

Details of the crash

FBI Agent Lancy Roundy wrote in a search warrant filed for Clah’s truck on Sept. 4, 2019, that Clah told federal investigators, while in the hospital, he had been drinking alcohol throughout the day prior to driving from Farmington to his home in Red Valley, Arizona. Chavez is referred to as “John Doe” in court records.

“Clah recalled John Doe being a passenger of his vehicle at some point during the drive,” Roundy wrote. “Clah admitted to drinking vodka approximately six hours prior to driving his vehicle home and remembered losing control of the vehicle while driving approximately 70 miles per hour before the vehicle rolled several times.”

Roundy wrote that, according to Clah’s hospital records from his treatment after the crash, his blood-alcohol content was 0.258, over three times the legal limit of 0.08.

According to Chavez’s autopsy report, he was not wearing a seatbelt and was ejected from the truck during the crash.

Continue reading “Arizona man pleads to involuntary manslaughter without deal in DWI killing”

Judge rules Trudy Martinez has no right to in-person pre-sentence interview

  • Judge William Johnson wrote Trudy Martinez has no right to an in-person interview with the probation officers preparing her pre-sentence report
  • Martinez pleaded guilty in March 2020 to voluntary manslaughter and a firearm enhancement
  • Alonzo Padilla’s motion does not appear in court records and he did not respond to questions about the possible improper sealing of his motion

See the case write-up

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Trudy Martinez, 29, of Twin Lakes, has no right to an in-person interview with the federal probation officers tasked with preparing a pre-sentence report and determining the range of her suggested sentence, a federal district court judge ruled.

Trudy Martinez

Martinez pleaded guilty on March 16, 2020, to voluntary manslaughter and a firearms enhancement for shooting her sister-in-law Cornelia McCabe with an AR-15 on April 26, 2019. She faces a sentence of 10 to 15 years.

In an Aug. 18, 2020 order, District Judge William Johnson wrote he would grant Alonzo Padilla‘s motion to continue sentencing the case, but only because there was good cause and not because he agreed with Padilla’s position that Martinez was entitled to an in-person interview. He continued sentencing until Nov. 30, 2020.

“To be clear, Defendant is not entitled to an in-person interview with Probation for the purposes of completing her PSR,” Johnson wrote. “In fact, the Court finds her insistence on an in-person interview to be unreasonable, especially when she cites no legal authority which would require an in person interview, or even that an interview is required at all.”

Padilla filed a motion on July 21, 2020, and in it said that he wanted a 90-day continuance “in order for an in-person presentence interview to be conducted given ‘the serious nature of this case,'” according to a response in opposition filed on July 23, 2020, by prosecutor Thomas Aliberti.

Padilla’s motion was numbered 36 and does not appear in the court docket. It also does not appear that Padilla filed a motion, or for permission to seal his motion to continue the case. Padilla, a public defender, did not return a request for information about his motion.

Writing in New Mexico In Depth, Jeff Proctor illuminated a pattern and practice by prosecutors and public defenders to improperly seal documents in federal criminal cases, contrary to local and federal rules on sealing procedures.

“Judges, not lawyers, are supposed to decide which documents are made available to the public and which should remain secret through an established protocol based in part on decades of case law: Attorneys must submit a written request asking a judge to seal records and a judge must consent before records are sealed,” Proctor wrote.

At the heart of Padilla’s request, which may be sealed in violation of court rules, is the demand that she be interviewed in person by probation. In-person interviews are problematic because of the coronavirus pandemic, according to court filings.

“The Court has no way of determining how long the pandemic and the corresponding ban on in-person visits at the Santa Fe Detention Center will last, or when an in-person interview can be safely conducted in the foreseeable future.” Johnson wrote.

Probation officers are “routinely” interviewing people in other criminal cases, leading Johnson to be at a “total loss to understand how Defendant is prejudiced if she’s interviewed by Probation with her
counsel participating utilizing videoconferencing or telephonic equipment.”

Johnson wrote he was admonishing Padilla that he will not grant further continuances solely because she wants an in-person interview.

“The PSR will be completed, with or without Defendant’s cooperation,” Johnson wrote. “The Court will consider Defendant’s ability to participate waived if she refuses to cooperate unless the interview is conducted in-person.”

Johnson wrote that Padilla also asked for more time to interview members of Martinez’s family, on the Navajo Nation, who are disproportionately impacted by the pandemic.

Sentencing is currently set for 9:30 a.m., Nov. 30 in the Cimarron courtroom in Albuquerque and will likely be available via video conference.

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

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

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

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Sentencing in Dulce torture case moved to October

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

See the case write-up

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

Mug of Allister Quintana
Allister Quintana

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

See the case write-up

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

Shiprock. Photo by Mobilus In Mobili/Flickr

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jaros opposed Bustamante’s request.

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

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

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

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

No further hearings are scheduled.

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

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

Jansen Peshlakai requests release because of the coronavirus after competency determination

See the case write-up

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

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

Shiprock Pinnacle. Photo by DiAnn L’Roy/Flickr

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cibola County Detention Center badge
Cibola County Detention Center badge

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

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

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

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

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

Prosecutor asks for life sentence in Dulce torture case

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

See the case write-up

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

Mug of Allister Quintana
Allister Quintana

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Spindle wrote:

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

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

Woman pleads guilty in 2019 Twin Lakes killing

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

See the case write-up

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

mug of Trudy Martinez
Trudy Martinez

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Judge releases Arizona man to family amid the coronavirus pandemic

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

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

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

Panoramic photo of Red Valley, Arizona, with no buildings in sight.
Red Valley, about a mile west of the New Mexico state line, 36.5850 -109.0712, Apache County, Arizona, 5/17/2014. Photo by Patrick Alexander/Flickr. CC BY-NC-SA

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

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

Briones denied Clah’s request to be allowed to move to Red Valley, Ariz., to take care of his parents and daughter, on April 1, 2020 and wrote in his denial that the dangers of the halfway house were justified because of Clah’s “pattern of prior conduct” and that his defense attorney didn’t show that there are “sufficient safeguards” to protect the community from the risk of Clah drinking and driving, if he isn’t living at the halfway house.

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

Judge: Arizona man not allowed to take care of ailing parents during coronavirus pandemic

  • Maroquez Clah wants to be released from an Albuquerque halfway house to his parents’ home in Red Valley, Ariz., because of the coronavirus and his parents’ health
  • Federal magistrate Judge Paul Briones wrote Clah poses too much of a risk to the community because of one prior drunk driving conviction
  • Prosecutor Novaline Wilson opposed Clah’s request in what could be an improperly sealed opposition 

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

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Despite approval from pretrial services officers, the looming threat of the coronavirus pandemic and a father slipping into dementia, a federal magistrate judge on April 1 refused to let a Red Valley, Ariz. man return home to help his elderly parents, relying on what appears to be an improperly sealed filing by a U.S. Attorney’s Office prosecutor, and he is appealing the decision.

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

Maroquez Clah is charged with involuntary manslaughter for allegedly crashing his truck while drunk, which killed a passenger identified as D.C. (YOB: 1997), on Aug. 30, 2019, near Mitten Rock, New Mexico. A grand jury indicted him on Nov. 25, 2019 but he was not arrested until Feb. 14, 2020. According to the federal docket sheet, Clah was released to a halfway house in Albuquerque on Feb. 20, 2020, after he was arraigned by federal Magistrate Judge Paul Briones.

On April 1, Briones denied Clah’s request to move from a halfway house in Albuquerque to his parents’ home in Red Valley, filed March 23. Briones did not have a hearing and instead relied on the emergency motion filed by Clah’s attorney, Emily Carey, and the opposition filed under seal by prosecutor Novaline Wilson. However, Wilson’s filing under seal appears to be against court rules on sealing documents, which require a judge’s consent and are only supposed to be done for very good reasons.

According to the local rules and federal court rules, documents are only supposed to be filed under seal for good reason and a record of the motion to file a document under seal is supposed to appear on the court docket, as outlined by Jeff Proctor in New Mexico In Depth.

Carey filed an appeal of Briones’ order on April 6, but no further documents or hearings have been docketed in the case.

She wrote in the initial motion that Briones, during the arraignment, said if Clah “performed well” at the halfway house, he would consider “possible modification” the conditions of his release. The current conditions restrict his travel to Bernalillo county. The minutes contain no details of what was said.

Wilson opposed Clah’s release pending trial during the arraignment, while pretrial officers suggested release, according to the minutes.

Carey wrote that Clah’s father is on dialysis and his health has recently declined and his mother, Bessie Begay, contacted her to say that his father has “developed something akin to dementia.”

Before being arrested, Clah “took on all of the household tasks and helped his mother with his father’s health care.” He also took care of his 4-year-old daughter, who is now in Begay’s custody, she wrote.

Continue reading “Judge: Arizona man not allowed to take care of ailing parents during coronavirus pandemic”

Maroquez Clah indicted for involuntary manslaughter in August 30, 2019 DWI crash

  • A federal grand jury indicted Maroquez Clah on Nov. 25, 2019 the case was not docketed until Dec. 3, 2019, and he was not arrested until Feb. 14, 2020
  • Clah allegedly killed a man as a result of a drunk driving crash in August 2019

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

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — A federal grand jury indicted Maroquez Clah, of Red Valley, Ariz., on a charge of involuntary manslaughter on Nov. 25, 2019, for a crash that killed a man in August 2019.

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

According to the indictment, Clah allegedly killed an unidentified man on Aug. 30, 2019, following a drunk driving crash in San Juan county.

The indictment contains no further details of the crash, its location, the victim or even where Clah was living at the time of the crash. (See updates and more details about the case)

Although the indictment was signed on Nov. 25, 2019, it was not entered into the federal court system until Dec. 3. Clah was not arrested until Feb. 14, 2020. His arrest warrant return was not entered into the online court system.

According to the federal docket sheet, Clah was not released to a halfway house in Albuquerque until Feb. 20, 2020, following a hearing in front of federal Magistrate Judge Paul Briones.

According to the minutes sheet from that hearing, Clah pleaded not guilty to the involuntary manslaughter charge.

Prosecutor Novaline Wilson opposed Clah’s release and asked he be held indefinitely even though pretrial services recommended he be released, according to the minutes.

Although Briones made findings in the case, the minutes sheet does not state what they were, or why Wilson argued that he should not be released.

According to Briones’ order setting the conditions of Clah’s release, he was restricted to travel in Bernalillo county, to avoid all contact with co-defendants, not operate a vehicle and reside at a halfway house in Albuquerque.

It is not clear from court records if there are co-defendants in his case.

Continue reading “Maroquez Clah indicted for involuntary manslaughter in August 30, 2019 DWI crash”

Maroquez Clah: Darrell Chavez — 8-30-2019

Suspect: Maroquez Clah

Victim: Darrell Chavez, 22

Charges: Involuntary manslaughter

Date of incident: Aug. 30, 2019

Type of incident: DWI crash

Status: Plea without a deal; pending sentencing, maximum 8 years

Investigating Agency: FBI

Location: Mile Marker 2, Navajo Route 13 (Indian Services Route 13) Mitten Rock, NM

Federal district case number: 19-cr-4447

Search warrant case number: 19-mr-01054

Prosecutor: Novaline Wilson

Prosecuting agency: U.S. Attorney’s Office

Plea judge: Magistrate Judge John Robbenhaar

Sentencing judge: None set

 

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Summary

On Aug. 30, 2019, Maroquez Clah, of Red Valley, Arizona, allegedly killed Darrell Chavez, 22, an enrolled Navajo Nation man when he lost control of his truck and rolled it on Navajo Route 13/Indian Services Route 13 near Mitten Rock, New Mexico, within the boundaries of the Navajo Nation reservation, in San Juan county. Chavez is only identified in court records by the initials D.C. and the year of birth of 1997. Clah is also an enrolled Navajo Nation member.

A federal grand jury indicted him on Nov. 25, 2019 and he was arrested on February 14, 2020, before being released a week later to a halfway house. He has since been released to his family in Red Vallely, Ariz.

On Sept. 21, 2020, he pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter without a plea deal.

The case is pending.

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The incident

A search warrant filed for Clah’s truck on Sept. 4, 2019, by Federal Bureau of Investigations Agent Lancy Roundy, gives a few details on the crash.

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

Clah told federal investigators, while in the hospital, he had been drinking alcohol throughout the day prior to driving from Farmington to his home in Red Valley, Arizona, in a 2007 Ford F-150 truck.

“Clah recalled John Doe being a passenger of his vehicle at some point during the drive,” Roundy wrote. “Clah admitted to drinking vodka approximately six hours prior to driving his vehicle home and remembered losing control of the vehicle while driving approximately 70 miles per hour before the vehicle rolled several times.”

According to Clah’s hospital records from his treatment after the crash, his blood-alcohol content was 0.258, over three times the legal limit of 0.08.

It is not clear how the agents obtained the medical records. The only unsealed search warrant for the case, between the time of the crash and Sept. 4, 2019, is Roundy’s.

Clah suffered a broken leg and “other injuries,” Roundy wrote.

Roundy wrote he wanted to search the truck for physical evidence of alcohol consumption, including bottles, receipts and cans, as well as take pictures of the truck.

Pretrial release

Magistrate judge denies move request during coronavirus pandemic

On April 1, federal Magistrate Judge Paul Briones denied Clah’s request to move from a halfway house in Albuquerque to his parents’ home in Red Valley, filed March 23. Briones did not have a hearing and instead relied on the emergency motion filed by Clah’s attorney, Emily Carey, and the opposition filed under seal by prosecutor Novaline Wilson. However, Wilson’s filing under seal appears to be against court rules on sealing documents, which require a judge’s consent and are only supposed to be done for very good reasons.

Panoramic photo of Red Valley, Arizona, with no buildings in sight.
Red Valley, about a mile west of the New Mexico state line, 36.5850 -109.0712, Apache County, Arizona, 5/17/2014. Photo by Patrick Alexander/Flickr. CC BY-NC-SA

According to the local rules and federal court rules, documents are only supposed to be filed under seal for good reason and a record of the motion to file a document under seal is supposed to appear on the court docket, as outlined by Jeff Proctor in New Mexico In Depth.

Carey filed an appeal of Briones’ order on April 6, but no further documents or hearings have been docketed in the case.

She wrote in the initial motion that Briones, during the arraignment, said if Clah “performed well” at the halfway house, he would consider “possible modification” the conditions of his release. The current conditions restrict his travel to Bernalillo county. The minutes contain no details of what was said.

Wilson opposed Clah’s release pending trial during the arraignment, while pretrial officers suggested release, according to the minutes.

Carey wrote that Clah’s father is on dialysis and his health has recently declined and his mother, Bessie Begay, contacted her to say that his father has “developed something akin to dementia.”

Before being arrested, Clah “took on all of the household tasks and helped his mother with his father’s health care.” He also took care of his 4-year-old daughter, who is now in Begay’s custody, she wrote.

Clah’s doctors are also in Shiprock and Farmington, closer to Red Valley than to Albuquerque. If he were allowed to return to Red Valley, he could also continue his work at Yazzie Oil Field Service. Allowing him to move back in with his parents would remove him from a communal living situation and possible infection by the coronavirus, Carey wrote.

Federal pretrial services in Arizona conducted a home assessment and said it would take responsibility for Clah’s supervision, she wrote.

According to Carey’s reply to Wilson’s sealed opposition, Clah has one prior tribal conviction for drunk driving in 2018. He was sentenced to 90 days supervised probation, which he completed.

That prior DWI conviction appears to be the basis of Wilson’s opposition to Clah taking care of his elderly father, helping his mother and parenting his child. Wilson also argues, according to Carey, that the global pandemic is not a “changed circumstance.” However, because Wilson appears to have improperly sealed her opposition, it is not clear if she had any more arguments.

Carey wrote:

“At this point, concerns pertaining to COVID-19 and the risk of communal living are not merely speculative. Moreover, even if he was required to present evidence of changed circumstances, Mr. Clah submits that he has met his burden given his exemplary conduct while on pretrial release, the deterioration in his father’s physical and mental health, the inability to access medical providers including his surgeon for urgent follow up care, and concerns for his own health and the health of his family because of COVID-19.”

Briones denied Carey’s motion because his “pattern of prior conduct” and that Carey didn’t show that there are “sufficient safeguards” to protect the community from the risk of Clah drinking and driving, if he isn’t living at the halfway house.

In Carey’s April 6 appeal, she wrote that Clah’s father has repeatedly fallen, following his descent in what appears to be dementia, and has been admitted to the hospital on suspicion of internal bleeding. Begay cannot stay with her husband at the hospital because of the risk of the coronavirus.

Clah would not have access to a car while living with his parents. His mother has a vehicle, but it’s provided by her work, she wrote.

Carey wrote:

“Mr. Clah’s physical movements are restricted by his own physical injuries for which he requires ongoing treatment. Moreover, at present, the entire Navajo Nation has imposed a curfew from 8:00 p.m. to 5:00 a.m., which is enforced by law enforcement personnel issuing citations and roadblocks. However, should the Court be concerned with Mr. Clah’s movement, he would be willing to submit to electronic monitoring under home detention or any other condition the court deems appropriate.”

Clah’s pretrial officer is still supports his request to move back to Red Valley, she wrote.

Whenever Clah speaks to his daughter on the phone, “she often cries and begs for him,” Carey wrote. “He is extremely concerned about the effect this separation is having on her, and worried about the burden his absence is putting on his mother.”

Begay also wrote a letter to the court.

District judge releases Clah to Arizona

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

In her order releasing Clah, Riggs wrote his medical and physical condition weighed toward his release, especially because he needed surgery on his leg, which is infected and that the halfway house stated they could not take care of his medical needs after he is released from the hospital.

She also found that, contrary to Briones’ opinion, the Clah has no access to a vehicle, the only way he poses a danger to the community.

“Given that Defendant has a history of compliance with conditions of release or probation, and lacks access to a vehicle, the Court agrees with Pretrial Services’ recommendation and concludes that these conditions will reasonably assure the safety of the community,” Riggs wrote.

Plea

On Sept. 21, 2020, Clah pleaded guilty without a plea agreement to involuntary manslaughter. He faces a maximum sentence of eight years.

No sentencing date has been set.

 

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Trudy Martinez: Cornelia McCabe — 4-26-2019

Suspect: Trudy Martinez

Victim: Cornelia McCabe, 36

Charges: Open count of murder pleaded down to voluntary manslaughter

Status: Guilty plea to voluntary manslaughter with a firearm enhancement

Date of incident: April 26, 2019

Investigative agencies: Federal Bureau of Investigations

Location: Twin Lakes, McKinley County, Navajo Nation

Relationship to victim: Sister-in-law

Federal Magistrate case number: 19-mj-01109

Federal District case number: 20-cr-00972

Prosecutor: Thomas Aliberti

Prosecuting agency: U.S. Attorney’s Office

Defense attorney: Alonzo Padilla

 

Summary

On April 26, 2019, Trudy Martinez fatally shot her sister-in-law, Cornelia McCabe, 36, in the abdomen with an AR-15 before fleeing with her children, according to court documents. On May 9, FBI agents arrested her in Gallup on a murder warrant.

On March 16, 2020, Martinez pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter and a firearms enhancement. There is no agreement as to the sentence. Sentencing is tentatively set for Aug. 24, 2020 in Albuquerque.

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The shooting

On April 26, 2019, Trudy Martinez, 28, of Twin Lakes, allegedly shot her sister-in-law, identified in court documents as McCabe, 36, once in the abdomen with an AR-15 assault-style rifle in her Twin Lakes home, Federal Bureau of Investigations Agent Jeffrey Wright wrote in an affidavit for an arrest warrant dated April 30.

mug shot of Trudy Martinez
Trudy Martinez

Investigators talked to McCabe’s daughter who told them she came home from school and saw Martinez outside the house, cleaning up the yard, before she went into the house, Wright wrote.

“She was upset and complained that no one was helping her clean,” Wright wrote. “DOE was inside watching over her children. C.M. observed MARTINEZ enter the home and push Doe. The two began to have a physical altercation. Martinez yelled at DOE and DOE’s children to leave the house.”

McCabe saw Martinez walk outside and get the carbine from a truck parked nearby. Martinez allegedly brought it into the house and loaded it, he wrote.

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

Martinez allegedly pointed the gun at the girl and yelled something at her. She ran next door to her grandmother’s house and the girl’s aunt, referred to as E.T., went back to the house with her to take care of McCabe, he wrote.

In her own interview, E.T. told investigators that she was at her house making jewelry with her husband. Sometime during the evening, one of the children ran to her and said that “Trudy shot my mom,” he wrote.

“The children explained that their mother (DOE) was laying on the floor in her house,” Wright wrote. “E.T. did not hear a gunshot, but noted that music was playing while she worked on the jewelry.”

When she went to the neighboring house, McCabe was sitting against a bed, awake and talking, he wrote.

“DOE stated ‘Trudy shot me,'” he wrote. “DOE than said that she needed to go to the hospital.”

Near Twin Lakes, NM on U.S. Highway 491. Photo by Steve Lyon/Flickr. CC BY-SA

E.T. told investigators that Martinez was in the attached home, shouting “What the fuck are you looking at?!” Wright wrote.

“She then stated to E.T., ‘she was beating me up,'” he wrote. “MARTINEZ explained to E.T. the altercation originated with the trash.”

E.T. then told other family members to get the truck, which they drove to McCabe’s house. They loaded her into it and drove to the gas station in Tolikai to meet the ambulance, he wrote.

“E.T. noted that approximately two weeks prior to the shooting, MARTINEZ was outside her home shooting a gun,” Wright wrote.

McCabe’s daughter also told the investigators the carbine used was the same kind that police officers were carrying at the crime scene and that Martinez would shoot the rifle at the back of the house.

That same day, investigators spoke to G.M., identified as Martinez’s brother. He told them Martinez called him after the shooting.

“MARTINEZ told G.M. that she had ‘done something wrong,'” Wright wrote. “G.M. asked MARTINEZ what was it that she had done. MARTINEZ responded that she had ‘shot Corn.’ ‘Corn’ is a nickname used by DOE.”

Martinez’s niece, K.M., said she had previously talked to Martinez about the AR-15 and that she had posted a photo of herself holding it on Facebook.

Fugitive

While Wright only applied for arrest warrant on April 30, 2019, the following day, the FBI offered a $1,000 reward for information on Martinez’s whereabouts.

FBI spokesman Frank Fisher wrote that Martinez fled from the scene of the killing with her children, a 10-year-old girl, a 9-year-old girl and a 5-year-old boy.

“She should be considered armed and dangerous,” Fisher wrote.

FBI agents arrested her in Gallup on May 9, 2019, according to a press release.

Court proceedings

Arraignment and detention

On May 14, she was ordered held without bail by federal Magistrate Judge Steven Yarbrough and she waived a preliminary hearing.

Martinez waived a preliminary hearing and grand jury presentment seven times, the last on Feb. 21, 2020.

Plea

On March 16, 2020, Martinez pleaded guilty to a criminal information charging her with voluntary manslaughter along with a firearms enhancement.

Mug shot of Trudy Martinez from the Santa Fe County Detention Center
Trudy Martinez

Voluntary manslaughter carries a maximum sentence of 15 years while the firearms enhancement carries a minimum sentence of 10 years.

Federal prosecutor Thomas Aliberti signed the plea deal and and it was accepted by federal Magistrate Judge Paul Briones, although final acceptance was deferred until sentencing by a district court judge, according to the minutes.

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

Martinez’s sentence is at the discretion of the sentencing judge but prosecutors agreed she is entitled to multiple reductions in the sentencing guidelines because she accepted responsibility.

Both prosecutors and Martinez’s defense attorney can argue for whatever sentence they want, according to the plea.

Pending sentencing

Sentencing was set for Aug. 24, 2020, at 10 a.m. in the Cimarron Courtroom in Albuquerque in front of District Court Judge William Johnson.

On April 13, 2020, Martinez’s attorney, Irma Rivas, filed an unopposed motion to push out the sentencing date because Martinez wants her pretrial interview to be in person but the coronavirus pandemic has eliminated in-person visits at the Santa Fe County Detention Center, where she is being housed.

On July 21, her new attorney, Alonzo Padilla, appears to have filed a motion under seal to push out her sentencing until probation officers could interview her in person.

District Judge William Johnson admonished Padilla and wrote that Martinez has no right to an in-person interview and set sentencing in the case for 9:30 a.m., Nov. 30, 2020.

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story referred to victim Cornelia McCabe as C.M., the initials used in court documents, because her name was not available when the story first published.

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Jansen Peshlakai: Dakota Whitehat — 7-13-2018

Suspect: Jansen Peshlakai

Victim: Dakota Whitehat, 20

Charges: Second-degree murder

Status: Pending

Date of incident: July 13, 2018

Agency: FBI

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

Federal magistrate case number: None

Federal district case number: 18-cr-03323

Prosecutor: Allison Jaros

Prosecuting agency: US Attorney’s Office

 

Summary

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

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

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

No hearings have been scheduled.

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The incident

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

Shiprock Pinnacle. Photo by DiAnn L’Roy/Flickr

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

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

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

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

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

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

According to Jaros:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Below is the approximate location of the alleged attack.

Court proceedings

Indictment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Competency

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Release request amid coronavirus

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Release request denied

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Suspect: Allister Danzig Quintana

Suspect: Andrew Bettelyoun

Victim: Travis Howland, 28

Date of incident: Feb. 2, 2018

Investigative agencies: Federal Bureau of Investigations

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

Federal search warrant case number: 18-mr-00578

Prosecutor: Joseph Spindle

Prosecuting agency: US Attorney’s Office

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

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

 

Summary

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

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

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

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The incident

Grudges and bail

Mug of Allister Quintana
Allister Quintana

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

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

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

The killing

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Humiliated, Doe complied,” Spindle wrote.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Discovery of the body

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

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

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

He opened the closet door and found Howland.

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

Cause of death

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

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

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

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

According to the report:

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

Social media posts

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

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

danzigcrowley: Every thing happened

Other poster: What do you mean by that?

danzigcrowley: Like ppl drinking n arguing n dumb shit

Other poster: Are you drunk?

danzigcrowley: I wish I’m kicking some ass

Other poster: Why?

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

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

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

Other poster: Why? An I hate myself n

danzigcrowley: Have to do some bat man shit

Other poster: To who?

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

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

danzigcrowley: bro

dakidoncloud9: whats up mane

danzigcrowley: I was about to kill someone last night

dakidoncloud9: What the fuck who my (racial epithet)

danzigcrowley: My brother haha

dakidoncloud9: Which one ?

danzigcrowley: Travis shit was crazy

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

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

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

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

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

Simmering resentment

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

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

Other confessions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The searches

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

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

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

 

Arrests, indictments and pleas

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

Arrest, indictment and plea timeline

In summary:

Initial arrests

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

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

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

Quintana’s first indictment

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

Bettelyoun’s plea

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

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

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

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

Quintana’s superseding indictment

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

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

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

Quintana’s guilty plea

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

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

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

 

Sentencing

Pending sentencing hearings

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

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

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

Prosecutors push for life sentence for Quintana

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He wrote:

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

Sentencing “anomaly”

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

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

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

Spindle wrote:

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

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

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

Travis Howland

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

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

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

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

 

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