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.

Continue reading “Joshua Gutierrez pleads to voluntary manslaughter for To’Hajiilee shooting”

Judge: Blood tests in alleged drunk driving killing can be used at trial

  • Kayla Baker is charged for allegedly killing a man in a DWI crash on June 16, 2018 near Navajo
  • Baker was released back to Arizona where she worked as a nurse
  • Prosecutors indicted her 17 months after the fatal crash

See the full case write-up

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — A Cornfields, Ariz. woman will not have her 0.15 blood-serum test thrown out as evidence in her involuntary manslaughter and assault on a minor case following a federal district court judge’s ruling, April 9, 2020, that she voluntarily gave them access to her medical records.

Photo of the Navajo Code Talker Monument in Window Rock, Arizona, with the Window Rock in the background.
Navajo Code Talker Monument, Window Rock, Arizona. Photo by John Fowler/Flickr. CC-BY

Kayla Baker, 24, is charged with involuntary manslaughter and assault of a minor resulting in serious bodily injury after she allegedly drunkenly crashed her car into oncoming traffic on June 16, 2018, on Route 12 outside the town of Navajo, near the border with Arizona. She does not appear to have ever been charged in magistrate court with J.G.’s death, rather, a federal grand jury indicted her 17 months after the fatal crash, according to court documents.

Baker allegedly tried to pass a woman on the two-lane highway and slammed into a car carrying a man, only named J.G. (YOB: 1988, enrolled Navajo National tribal member) in court documents, his “common-law wife,” their 16-month-old son and the woman’s 17-year-old sister, according to court documents.

Baker’s attorney, Aric Elsenheimer, tried to get all the test results thrown out under the theory that she did not voluntarily consent to give them to tribal investigators Farrell Begay and Samantha Yazzie when they interrogated her at a jail in Window Rock, Ariz., following the crash. No court documents state she was charged with, or by whom, while she was held in Window Rock.

A separate blood test at the FBI crime lab showed a blood-alcohol level of 0.12, according to court documents.

District Judge William Johnson dismissed the motion on April 9, 2020.

Johnson also dismissed a motion, on March 6, 2020, to dismiss the charge of assault of a minor resulting in serious bodily injury.

Elsenheimer wrote in the motion that the assault charge, which carries a minimum mandatory sentence of 10 years and a maximum of life, required prior knowledge and intent, that is, that Baker knew and intended his 17-year-old victim was underage when she allegedly drunkenly crashed into her. Assault resulting in serious bodily injury, not done to a minor, carries a maximum sentence of 10 years — the mandatory minimum for its counterpart done to a minor.

On Feb. 28, 2020, Johnson granted a motion to continue the case for a jury trial tentatively set for July 6, 2020.

Continue reading “Judge: Blood tests in alleged drunk driving killing can be used at trial”

Trial in Nenahnezad beating death postponed for third time

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The incident

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

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

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

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

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 plea deal allowed for 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.

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 plea.

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

Joshua Gutierrez: Llewyn Platero — 3-29-2020

Suspect: Joshua Gutierrez

Victim: Llewyn Platero, 36

Charges: Murder

Date of incident: March 29, 2020

Status: Guilty plea to voluntary manslaughter, discharging a firearm in the course of the crime.

Sentence: 12 years per the plea agreement, final acceptance to be made by the sentencing judge

Investigating Agency: FBI

Location: To’Hajiilee, Bernalillo County

Federal magistrate case number: 20-mj-01001

Federal district case number: 20-cr-01867

Prosecuting agency: U.S. Attorney’s Office

Prosecutor: Allison Jaros

Defense attorney: Sylvia Baiz

Plea judge: Magistrate Judge Paul Briones

Other judge: Magistrate Judge Kirtan Khalsa

Sentencing judge: To be determined

 

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.

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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

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

Suspect: John Lodgepole

Victim: M.W., female, YOB 1975, Navajo Nation tribal member

Charges: Voluntary manslaughter

Date of incident: Aug. 1, 2019

Type of incident: Beating

Status: Pending

Investigating Agency: FBI

Location: Nenahnezad, San Juan county, Navajo Nation, NM

Federal district case number: 19-cr-03599

Federal magistrate case number: 19-mj-02388

Prosecutor: Raquel Ruiz-Velez

 

Summary

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

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

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

The case was continued three times — on Oct. 30, 2019; Jan. 13, 2020 and March 10, 2020. It is still pending, according to the docket.

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The incident

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Spaeth charged Lodgepole with murder.

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, plea negotiations have not begun in the case. It is still pending.

According to the docket, a call of the calendar is set for May 21, 2020.

 

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See the case documents on Google Drive or Document Cloud

Kayla Baker: Unidentified man (J.G., YOB 1988) — 6-16-2018

Suspect: Kayla Baker

Victim: J.G. (male, YOB: 1988, enrolled Navajo Nation member)

Charges: Involuntary manslaughter, assault of a minor resulting in serious bodily injury

Date of incident: June 16, 2018

Type of incident: DWI crash

Status: Pending

Investigating Agency: FBI

Location: Route 12 near Navajo, N.M.

County: McKinley County

Federal district case number: 19-cr-04272

Search warrant case number: 18-mr-00603

Prosecutor: Nicholas Marshall

 

Summary

On June 16, 2018, Kayla Baker allegedly drunkenly passed a car on Route 12, near Navajo, New Mexico, and crashed head-on into another car, killing one Navajo Nation tribal member, a man named J.G., and injuring three others, one severely.

On Nov. 19, 2019, a federal grand jury indicted Baker on charges of involuntary manslaughter and assault of a minor resulting in serious bodily injury. Trial is tentatively set for July 6, 2020, in Albuquerque.

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The incident

On June 16, 2018, Kayla Erika Baker, also known as Kayla Baker, was driving on Route 12 (mile post 36), near Navajo, New Mexico, when she allegedly tried to pass another car on the two-lane road, FBI Agent Lance Roundy wrote in an affidavit for a search warrant.

Photo of the Navajo Code Talker Monument in Window Rock, Arizona, with the Window Rock in the background.
Navajo Code Talker Monument, Window Rock, Arizona. Photo by John Fowler/Flickr. CC-BY

Baker, of Cornfields, Ariz., allegedly crashed head-on into a Ford Fusion carrying J.G. (YOB: 1988, a registered member of the Navajo Nation), his “common-law wife,” their 16-month-old son and the “common-law wife’s” 17-year-old sister, referred to as C.H., according to a response to the motion to dismiss filed by prosecutor Nicholas Marshall.

Navajo Police Officer Cherlyn Owens allegedly found that Baker smelled of alcohol, had slurred speech, bloodshot eyes and a lack of balance and tried to conduct a field-sobriety test, which Baker failed, Roundy wrote.

In the car, Owens found beer bottles and a “bottle of alcohol” in the passenger side, he wrote.

Navajo Police Officer Irene Six found C.H. injured on the ground outside the car. She was flown to a hospital in Fort Defiance, Ariz., before being flown to the University of New Mexico Hospital for a broken leg, Roundy wrote.

A year later. C.H. needed follow-up surgery a year later “on the hardware placed in her leg and to aid in her recovery” and still receives physical therapy, Marshall wrote.

Medics, and a physician who stopped to help, tried to save J.G., and he was flown to Fort Defiance as well, where he was pronounced dead, Roundy wrote.

J.G.’s girlfriend said she remembered trying to hold on tightly to her toddler during the crash. Both her and the toddler suffered minor injuries and were released from the hospital, Marshall wrote.

Navajo Criminal Investigator Farrell Begay interviewed Baker following the crash, but Roundy did not write if Baker waived her Miranda rights.

Roundy wrote:

“During the interview, Baker admitted to purchasing Blue Moon beer and a bottle of Southern Comfort liquor. Baker stated she consumed half a can of beer before driving her car on Route 12. Baker did not recall any details after turning on to Route 12, but did recall waking up in the hospital.”

After federal investigators obtained her medical records, they showed she had a “blood serum of .151 of alcohol,” while an FBI crime lab test showed a she had a blood-alcohol content of 0.12. The legal limit is 0.08, in addition to THC, Marshall wrote.

Marshall wrote:

“The crash data information recovered from the vehicles indicated Defendant was in a passing zone, and went into the other lane, and was accelerating at the time of the crash. There is no indication of Defendant braking, or even swerving, to avoid hitting the other vehicle nor any indication that she even saw the other vehicle. Both cars were driving above the speed limit at the time of the crash.”

Following the crash, Begay and investigator Samantha Yazzie interrogated Baker at the Window Rock Department of Corrections in Window Rock, Ariz.

During that interrogation, Baker consented to giving investigators her medical records, including the blood test results.

Her attorney tried unsuccessfully to have the blood test results suppressed.

It is not clear how long, or under what charges or jurisdiction, Baker was held in Arizona because she was never charged for the crash in federal magistrate court.

Indictment and release

On Nov. 19, 2019, 17 months after J.G. died in the crash, a federal grand jury indicted Baker on charges of involuntary manslaughter and assault of a minor resulting in serious bodily injury.

While involuntary manslaughter carries a maximum sentence of eight years, assaulting a minor carries a minimum mandatory sentence of 10 years with a maximum sentence of life. Assault resulting in serious bodily injury, but not done to a minor, carries a maximum sentence of 10 years.

After Begay arrested her on Nov. 25, 2019, at the Fort Defiance Indian Hospital, she was brought to federal court in Albuquerque where federal Magistrate Judge Jerry Ritter ordered her held without bail until a detention hearing on Dec. 3, 2019, where she was ordered released by Magistrate Judge Kirtan Khalsa. (LINK) She pleaded not guilty during her arraignment the day before.

Marshall opposed her release, but the minutes contain no documentation of why.

According to the conditions of her release, she was released into the custody of Carol Tapaha and ordered, with the exception of travel to court, to stay within Apache and Coconino counties in Arizona. She is also supposed be monitored for alcohol use.

After her release, Baker was fired from her job as a nurse “in an emergency room setting,” her attorney, Aric Elsenheimer, wrote in a motion to modify the conditions of her release.

Her unnamed employer took the restriction of her release, that she have no contact with the victims or their families, to mean she could not work at the hospital and he wanted the judge to change the conditions so she could have incidental contact. Marshall did not oppose the motion, he wrote.

Khalsa granted it.

Motions

Motion to dismiss assault on a minor charge

Aric Elsenheimer filed two motions early in the case. The first was to dismiss the second count of the indictment, for assault of a minor resulting in serious bodily injury.

Elsenheimer wrote that the crime required Baker’s knowledge that the person she severely injured was a minor.

District Judge William Johnson dismissed the motion.

Motion to suppress blood tests

Elsenheimer filed a separate motion to suppress the blood tests.

He wrote in a motion to suppress that the investigators, Begay and Yazzie, “did not obtain valid consent” from Baker to get her blood tests from the hospital.

Johnson denied that motion.

Still pending

On Feb. 28, 2020, Johnson granted a motion to continue the case for a jury trial tentatively set for July 6, 2020.

 

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See the case documents on Google Drive or Document Cloud

Tavis Washburn: Orlando Wadsworth — 2-15-2018

Suspect: Tavis Washburn

Victim: Orlando Wadsworth, 37

Charges: Involuntary manslaughter and assault on a minor resulting in serious bodily injury, pleaded down to involuntary manslaughter and child abuse

Status: Sentenced; Guilty plea to involuntary manslaughter and child abuse

Incident type: Drunk driving crash

Sentence: 6 years (71 months) followed by 3 years supervised release

Sentence range per plea deal: 71 (6 years) to 10 years (120 months)

Date of incident: Feb. 15, 2018

Agency: FBI

Location: Littlewater Express, Highway 491, Littlewater, NM

Magistrate case number: 18-mj-03457

District case number: 19-cr-02072

See the case documents on Google Drive, Document Cloud or locally

Summary

On Feb. 15, 2018, Tavis Washburn, 27, crashed into a truck pulling out of the Littlewater Express on Highway 491 near Littlewater, while speeding. The crash killed his brother, Orlando Wadsworth, and severely injured his 2-year-old son. Eight months later, Federal Bureau of Investigations agents charged him with involuntary manslaughter and assault on a minor resulting in serious bodily injury. When his blood was tested at the hospital, he had a blood-alcohol level of 0.285, over three times the legal limit.

On July 12, 2019, Washburn pleaded guilty to a criminal information, filed the same day, charging him with involuntary manslaughter and child abuse. According to his plea deal, his sentence would range from just under 6 years (71 months) and 10 years, the minimum mandatory sentence if he had been convicted of assault on a minor resulting in serious bodily injury.

On Feb. 13, 2020, federal District Court Judge Martha Vazquez sentenced Washburn to the minimum under the plea, just under six years, followed by supervised release for three years.

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The incident

Shiprock Pinnacle. Photo by DiAnn L’Roy/Flickr

On Feb. 15, 2018, Tavis Washburn went to see his brother, Orlando Wadsworth, at his house in Sanostee to “have some drinks,” he told investigators, according to an affidavit for a criminal complaint written by FBI Agent Kalon Fancher.

Wadsworth wanted to go to Shiprock to pick up his EBT card, or benefits debit card, so Washburn buckled his 2-year-old child into a child seat in the back of a red Kia and drove to Shiprock. When they finished, Washburn wanted to pick up his “common law wife” from her work at the Littlewater Express gas station, so he sped, an estimated 75 yo 85 mph in a 45-mph zone, Fancher wrote.

One woman, only identified by the initials L.B., told Navajo Nation Criminal Investigator Wilson Charley that she was going about 65 mph when a red Kia passed her, then hit the raised center concrete median, causing sparks to come from the tire, around 10 p.m., Charley wrote in an investigation report.

The red car crested a little hill, then five seconds later, she came on the crash scene. A black truck “was being thrown across the northbound lane and it landed on the east side of the roadway,” Charley wrote.

L.B. stopped and ran to the red car and found two men in the front seats and a baby in the back. Washburn, whom she identified as a man with long hair, was trying to get out of the driver’s side window. The 2-year-old, Washburn’s child, was crying, while Washburn kept yelling he was OK, then started yelling for his brother after he got out, Charley wrote.

According to L.B.’s account, a woman, later identified as K.C., came up and started yelling that it was car her, her husband and her baby involved in the crash, then removed the baby from the car seat while Washburn argued with her, Charley wrote.

Navajo Nation Police Officer Ty Joe arrived at the scene of the crash and found Washburn walking around, his face covered in blood. Washburn was obviously intoxicated and smelled like alcohol. He denied driving and claimed another man, only identified by the first initial “H,” was driving and “took off running after the crash,” Charley wrote.

The rest of the man’s name is redacted.

Joe saw Wadsworth was pinned against the passenger-side door frame and it had to be cut for him to be removed and the 2-year-old had been removed from his car seat prior to police or medics arriving, Charley wrote.

While Joe was trying to render medical attention to Wadsworth when Washburn walked away and later returned in a black Dodge Avenger and claimed he was injured. Joe told the person driving him to drive him to the Northern Navajo Medical Center, Charley wrote.

The child was flown to the hospital first, followed by Wadsworth, because he had to be extricated. The 2-year-old child suffered a lacerated liver, a collapsed lung, a left arm fracture and a broken left leg, he wrote.

According to a sentencing memorandum, K.C. told prosecutors that their son’s left leg bones “have not grown at the same rate as the right leg bones, resulting in his hips being uneven.” However, “it is not clear” if the child will have his future movement ability affected or if he will require more treatment.

Washburn’s blood-alcohol content, after the crash, was 0.285, over three times the legal limit, according to the memo.

Washburn was charged on Oct. 24, 2018, eight months following the crash. On Nov. 18, 2018, federal Magistrate Judge Jerry Ritter ordered Washburn be released into the custody of a halfway house.

The other driver

The person in the black truck, a GMC Sierra, that Washburn hit, identified in court documents by the initials A.J., told Charley and Fancher that the night of the crash, he got off work at 3 p.m. He ran a few errands in Farmington before driving back to the Navajo reservation and stopped for gas in Shiprock before driving south to Sanostee, around 9 p.m., Charley wrote.

A.J. told investigators he remembered driving past the weigh station, 2-3 miles north of the Littlewater Express Store, and nothing after that, other than being woken up and his mother taking him to the hospital in Shiprock, he wrote.

However, he admitted to drinking three 12-ounce cans of Bud Light before he was crashed into, Charley wrote.

According to an crash reconstruction report, requested by Fancher and done by Officer Stanley Lundy, AJ was driving at 31 mph at the time of impact while Washburn was driving at 85 mph.

According to a sentencing memorandum, Lundy and another accident reconstructionist, disagreed “at the relative fault” of AJ in the crash, although Lundy’s report makes no overt judgement to fault.

Two more witnesses

Two people, S.B. and K.C., the mother of the 2-year-old/Washburn’s girlfriend (also referred to as his common-law wife and as his wife in court documents)t, were working at the Littlewater Express Store the night of the crash, Charley wrote.

S.B. told Charley that around 9:30 p.m., K.C. was on the phone with her boyfriend, Washburn, and worried he was drinking with their son. Around 10 p.m., the last customer left. It was A.J., who got into his black truck. Her boss called and asked about him and she said he was just leaving the store, he wrote.

“(S.B.) said she was looking out the store window when she noticed a car traveling southbound at a very high rate of speed,” Charley wrote. “(S.B.) said it was almost instantly when the car hit the black truck as it was pulling out of the store’s parking lot.”

Still on the phone with her boss, she screamed it was AJ who was involved in the crash. K.C. ran out of the store, asked S.B. where the crash was, then ran to the crash site. S.B. would see and hear a woman at the site of the crash, yelling for help, Charley wrote.

“(S.B.) said she went back into the store to get her phone and when she came back out (K.C.) was running back to the store yelling she couldn’t make it over the fence,” Charley wrote. “(K.C.) was yelling that it was her car and her baby.”

S.B. saw K.C. run to the crash scene. She then started banging on the car and cussing at someone before opening the door and slapping her boyfriend. She brought the baby back into the store after being driven by someone with the initials S.P., (who name is otherwise redacted in the documents,) Charley wrote.

S.B. went to the crash scene with her boss and saw K.C. in someone’s car with her baby. S.B. called for medics and told them the baby needed medical attention. Washburn followed K.C. around at the crash scene, and K.C. yelled at him, saying he was the cause of “all this,” Charley wrote.

When the medics did find the boy, he was flown to the hospital with severe injuries.

S.B. took K.C. to the San Juan Regional Medical Center and, during the drive, she asked K.C. about the other two adults in the car, he wrote.

“(S.B.) said (K.C.)’s boyfriend was the driver because no one ran from the scene as she witnessed the crash in front of her,” Charley wrote.

Charley’s interview with K.C. makes no mention of her pulling her baby out of the car or not bringing him to medics.

Fatal injuries

Orlando Jerry Wadsworth, of Sanostee, 37 when he died, was born on Oct. 6, 1980 in Shiprock and he died on Feb. 15, 2018, according to his obituary. No more biographical information was listed.

Wadsworth’s right arm was completely broken, as was his left leg. He suffered “massive trauma” to the back of the head, according to a field investigation conducted by the Office of the Medical Investigator.

After being sealed in a body bag on Feb. 16, 2018, his family agreed for him to be an organ donor. The following day, donor services informed the deputy field investigator that the Desert View Funeral Home embalmed him before they could harvest any organs, according tot he field investigation.

Although he was embalmed before an autopsy could happen, the FBI asked for it to still be done, according to the field investigation.

According to the autopsy report, Wadsworth has tears in his right lung, spleen and liver, which would have caused massive internal bleeding resulting in his death.

 

The plea

According to court records, prosecutors filed a criminal information charging Washburn with involuntary manslaughter and child abuse on July 12, 2019, the same day as his plea hearing. The latter charge was a downgrade from assault on a minor resulting in serious bodily injury charge initially levied by Fancher.

Washburn pleaded guilty to the two charges, involuntary manslaughter and child abuse, although Magistrate Judge Kirtan Khalsa deferred final acceptance of the plea until sentencing in front of a District Court judge during a 27-minute hearing, according to minutes from the plea hearing.

According to the plea agreement, Washburn’s sentence would be between just under six years (71 months) and 10 years, an agreement between the prosecution and defense that is binding on a judge who accepts it. Prosecutor Allison Jaros signed the plea.

 

History of drunk driving

According to Jaros’ sentencing memo, Washburn had previously been arrested for drunk driving in June 2017, while his wife and their child were with him. A breath test for his blood-alcohol level found it to be between 0.15 and 0.17.

“Defendant’s wife told police that she advised Defendant not to drive, but did not want to argue with him,” Jaros wrote.

San Juan County Sheriff’s deputies charged him with child abuse, aggravated DWI, driving on a suspended license and open container of alcohol in a vehicle, according to an Aztec Magistrate Court docket.

His 2017 drunk driving case was initially referred to pre-prosecution diversion, on June 29, 2017, but by Nov. 2, 2017, it was terminated and he waived his right to a preliminary hearing. The case was then bound over to District Court, according to the docket.

According to the Farmington/Aztec District Court docket, he pleaded guilty to drunk driving and child abuse, but the latter charge was subject to a conditional discharge.

 

Sentencing arguments

Federal prosecutor Allison Jaros did not request a specific sentence, other than federal District Court Judge Martha Vazquez accept the plea agreement, with the range of 6-10 years imprisonment.

Jaros wrote in a sentencing memorandum, submitted Nov. 22, 2019, that the plea allowed Washburn to avoid a minimum sentence of 10 years for a assault on a minor resulting in serious bodily injury charge.

The involuntary manslaughter charge carried a maximum sentence of eight years.

Although the evidence against Washburn was strong, “neither victim favored prosecution,” she wrote.

He was not charged for injuries to A.J., in the vehicle he hit, according to court documents.

Although two of the three victims were related to Washburn, and those were the ones he was charged for hurting and killing, one was dead and the other was 2 at the time of the crash.

Jaros did not write how a dead man and a toddler could favor prosecution.

The two accident reconstructionists disagreed on A.J.’s role in the crash and he was never charged because of that disagreement, she wrote.

Jaros wrote that the previous conviction for drunk driving, and that his child was previously in the car during a drunk driving incident, were aggravating factors to be considered.

Washburn’s attorney, Alejandro Fernandez, wrote in a sentencing memorandum submitted Oct. 21, 2019, that the crash plays in Washburn’s mind in a “relentless loop.”

Fernandez requested a sentence of 71 months, just under six years, the minimum allowed under the plea deal.

Washburn wrote in an undated letter to the court that he was at the La Pasada Halfway House, had been there for a year, and was working two jobs to provide for his 3-year-old son and a newborn.

“The day the accident happened has made a huge impact on me and my family,” he wrote. “I always wished it never happened. My oldest brother was the passenger and is now deceased from the accident. My son being injured hurts me knowing he was part of it. He had fully healed from the injuries and is now back to normal.”

This assertion, that his child is “now back to normal” is contradicted by Jaros’ sentencing memo, that the boy’s left leg bones “have not grown at the same rate as the right leg bones, resulting in his hips being uneven.”

Washburn wrote that he became addicted to alcohol for three years after his mother died, but he no longer misses the feeling or taste and thinks about his family and his future as a father.

“Please give me the least amount of time to serve so I can attend college and also provide for my two boys,” he wrote. “I believe I am a good person. I help those in need, I donate what is needed to strangers and feel good doing so.”

Revocation for drinking

On Dec. 2, 2019, pretrial services asked for the judge to have Washburn arrested after twice tested positive for alcohol.

On Dec. 1, he blew a 0.148 followed by a 0.168 and the following day, he blew a 0.297, according to a petition for action on the conditions of his pretrial release.

The halfway house Washburn had been staying at was no longer willing to serve as his third-party custodian. On Dec. 4, he was remanded into the custody of the U.S. Marshals Service and he waived his right to a preliminary hearing and a detention hearing.

Sentenced

On Feb. 13, 2020, two months after Washburn was arrested for violating the conditions of his release by drinking heavily, federal District Court Judge Martha Vazquez sentenced him to the minimum allowed under the plea deal, just under six years (71 months), followed by supervised release for three years.

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 plea.

 

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