Joshua Gutierrez pleads to voluntary manslaughter for To’Hajiilee shooting

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

See past stories or the case write-up

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Wheeler Cowperthwaite contributed to this report.

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

  • One witness claimed he watched Joshua Gutierrez shoot the man in the chest
  • Gutierrez claimed the unidentified man “assaulted” him

Read the case write-up here

TO’HAJIILEE, N.M. — A 21-year-old To’Hajiilee man is being held without bail after federal agents charged him with murder for fatally shooting a man on March 29, 2020 on the reservation.

Federal Bureau of Investigations agents charged Joshua Gutierrez for killing the unidentified man, called John Doe in court documents, and identified as a Native American.

Exit to To’hajiilee. Photo by formulaone/Flickr.

FBI Agent Dibiassi Robinson wrote in an affidavit for a criminal complaint that one witness said Gutierrez shot the man in the chest at a residence on the To’Hajiilee reservation and then threatened to shoot them while another heard the gunshot and was then threatened and a third claimed Gutierrez came to him after and confessed to the killing, before police arrived.

When Gutierrez spoke to investigators, he alleged he was attacked by the unidentified man, he wrote.

Witness JL told investigators that he was at an acquaintance’s house when Doe 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.”

John Doe and MK stopped briefly, then started “tussling” and being loud again, before John Doe 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 DOE 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 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.

“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. A release hearing is set for 9:40 a.m., April 2, according to court documents.

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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

Richmond Sam: Jefferson Herrera — 7-30-2015

Suspect: Richmond Sam

Victim: Jefferson Herrera

Charges: Second-degree murder, possession of a firearm by a felon, using a firearm to commit a violent offense

Status: Guilty plea to involuntary manslaughter

Sentence: 1 year, 3 months (15 months)

Date of incident: July 30, 2015

Agency: FBI

Location: Counselor, Navajo Nation, San Juan County

District case number: 15-cr-03051

 

The summary

On July 30, 2015, Jefferson Herrera, 29, and his three brothers went to Richmond Sam’s house, trying to get him outside to fight and destroying his property. Sam went to a neighbor’s house, got a gun and started shooting. He hit no one the first time he shot, according to court records.

Sam claims he was fired upon first. The people involved, described as being unreliable witnesses, said they never shot first, according to court records.

He then opened fire a second time, after the assailants, including Herrera, were driving away. He may, or may not have, fired the shot that killed him. According to court records, the autopsy report casts doubt that Sam was low enough to the ground, or close enough, for the trajectory of the bullet that killed him, according to court records.

Sam’s lawyer posited that it is possible one of Herrera’s own brothers accidentally shot him while fleeing, according to court records.

Sam was initially charged with second-degree murder and possession of a firearm by a felon, according to court records.

He took a plea for involuntary manslaughter with a minimum sentence of 15 months and a maximum of 21. Federal District Judge James Browning gave him the minimum, 15 months, according to court records.

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The incident

On July 29, 2015, a group of four men, all brothers, bought some Old English malt liquor and started drinking. The victim’s brother, only identified as JH, told his brothers, one of whom was victim Jefferson Herrera, Richmond Sam owed him $45 for gas money. The debt was accrued several months prior, FBI Agent Ross Zuercher wrote in an affidavit for an arrest warrant.

Photo taken near Counselor, NM
Near Counselor, NM. Photo by Chris Sale/Flickr. CC BY

“Around midnight of July 30, 2015, the four men arrived at SAM’s residence shouting that he owed JH money, and to pay his debts,” Zuercher wrote. “The men tried to call SAM out of the residence to confront him.”

After Sam refused to come out, they started smashing the windows of the two cars parked at his house.

“The windows were smashed with iron fence posts obtained from the property,” Zuercher wrote. “JH stated that he saw a man, although he could not make out his face, begin to fire live ammunition at the four brothers.”

After being shot at, the men got into their own car and fled. Herrera was driving, he wrote.

Herrera is not identified in court records but he is identified in his obituary and in his autopsy report.

“As the vehicle sped away down SAM’s driveway, several more shots were fired at the vehicle,” Zuercher wrote. “One round broke the back window of the vehicle. One of the rounds fired entered the back of John Doe’s neck, and exited the oral cavity. JH stated that he saw his brother, John Doe, slump forward with blood coming out of his mouth. John Doe had made painful moaning noises as he slumped forward.”

The car crashed into a ditch, JH got out of the vehicle, grabbed Herrera from the driver’s seat and put him in the rear.

“JH could not recall where the other two brothers went,” Zuercher wrote.

JH then drove to their mother’s house, four miles away. At 5 a.m. that same morning, Sam surrendered at the San Juan County Sheriff’s Office.

When officers conducted a search of his property, they found an AK-47 and a loaded drum magazine.

“The rifle was found wrapped in a blanket and placed inside a bush,” he wrote.

In his own statement to officers, Sam said he had been watching a movie when he heard a loud commotion coming from outside, and someone trying to break his door down.

“SAM held the door shut with his body weight,” Zuercher wrote. “While holding the door closed, SAM said that he heard a loud bang that sounded like a gunshot. Eventually the intruders lost interest into gaining access to the residence. SAM said that he heard a vehicle shift into drive, and believed it to be the best chance to escape from his residence.”

Sam told the officers he then ran to his cousin’s house, told him about the intruders and asked for a weapon and his cousin gave him the AK-47. He went back to his own house and positioned himself next to a wood pile.

“SAM then said that he was fired upon twice by what he believed to be a rifle,” Zuercher wrote. “SAM said that he thought it was a rifle because he could see the light reflecting off what looked to be a long barrel. SAM said he returned fire and shot approximately five times. SAM saw approximately four to six men scatter.”

He saw them get into a car and begin to drive away. He then moved closer, to a metal structure, and fired five more times. After he heard the vehicle crash, he wrapped the gun in a blanket and put it in a bush, he wrote.

Below if the affidavit for an arrest warrant.

Criminal Complaint - Richmond Sam - D.N.M._1-15-cr-03051_2_0

Court proceedings

Previous incident

Richmond Sam was on probation for previously shooting at a deputy who tried to pull him over for drunk driving. When he killed Herrera, he was still on probation.

Indictment and plea

On Aug. 24, 2015, a federal grand jury indicted Richmond Sam on charges of second-degree murder, felon in possession of a firearm and using a firearm during a crime of violence.

After a series of motions and the case was about to go to a jury trial, Sam pleaded guilty, instead, to involuntary manslaughter on Dec. 31, 2015.

In federal law, involuntary manslaughter carries a maximum sentence of eight years in prison. However, the plea agreement, which District Judge James Browning signed, dictated that Sam would receive a sentence of a year and three months (15 months) to a year and nine months (21 months).

Prosecutors filed a criminal information, dropping the other charges and decreasing second-degree murder to involuntary manslaughter.

Plea - Richmond Sam - D.N.M._1-15-cr-03051_53_0

Sentencing

When it came to sentencing, U.S. Attorney David Adams requested Browning sentence Sam to the maximum, according to the plea deal.

“Acknowledging that the plea agreement radically reduces the defendant’s exposure to incarceration, the United States urges the Court to accept the agreement based on the fact that grounds for the plea are significantly tied to the facts of the case and the detrimental impact proceeding to trial would likely have on all parties involved,” Adams wrote.

The three brothers were unreliable witnesses and Adams was not sure if they would even show up, if the case went to trial, he wrote. In addition, they had little credibility, considering they attacked Sam’s property.

Photo taken near Counselor, NM
Near Counselor, NM. Photo by Chris Sale/Flickr. CC BY

“If one of the witnesses decided not to show, the government’s case in chief would collapse, the jury would more likely rely upon the Defendant and his version of events, which was well articulated in his statement to law enforcement,” Adams wrote. “A spokesperson for the family had conveyed to the government that the brothers would likely be a no show at the day of trial. The allegation by the Defendant that one of the brothers was firing a rifle from the vehicle would become an even more difficult obstacle to overcome if one of the witnesses decided not to show. The government wasn’t privy to what defenses witnesses would testify to, but the defense had eluded to the fact that one of their witnesses would testify that they heard or saw another weapon being fired, corroborating the Defendant’s version of events.”

Sam’s attorney, Robert Gorence, argued that Sam had a legitimate claim to self defense, Adams wrote.

‘”The United States agrees with the analysis that the Defendant’s self-defense claim could have resulted in an acquittal or at the very least a step down to involuntary manslaughter which would have resulted in a sentence of two to three years,” Adams wrote. “Taking those things into consideration, as well as the criminal history of the victim and his brothers, the parties negotiated a plea that reconciled what would have otherwise been an indeterminate trial dynamic.”

US Sentencing Memo - Richmond Sam - D.N.M._1-15-cr-03051_59_0

Gorence wrote in his own sentencing memorandum that it was a highly contested case, as evidenced by his release appeal (Sam spent the entire time before trial in jail) and the FBI hardly did its own job, and that he wanted Sam to be sentenced at the low end of the sentence spectrum:

“Mr. Sam’s investigation in this case revealed the following that had not been uncovered by the FBI:
1. Mr. Sam had been the victim of repeated threats and violence directed against him and his property;
2. On the night of July 30, 2016, Mr. Sam was not intoxicated and was peaceably minding his business at his residence;
3. That the alleged victim in this case and his brothers, close to midnight, began what would be called an ‘attempted home invasion,’ and, when unsuccessful in breaching the residence, the alleged victim and his brothers proceeded to smash a house window and the windows of Mr. Sam’s vehicles.”

In addition, Sam was not armed in his own house and only retrieved a gun from his neighbor, who tried himself to call 911, but was unable to. In addition, three different neighbors would corroborate that they heard Sam being shot at before he returned fire, Gorence wrote.

“Perhaps of greatest significance in this case is the odd autopsy findings cursorily set forth in paragraph 17 of the PSR (Pre-sentence report),” Gorence wrote. “Although Mr. Sam was at least 15 feet higher in elevation than the alleged victim, the autopsy identified that the alleged victim died from a single bullet which entered his left upper back, went through his left shoulder blade and the left side of his neck, into his oral cavity and exited the right side of his mouth. Given the difference in elevation, this trial would have established great uncertainty as to whether or not Mr. Sam actually fired the fatal shot. Quite conceivably the alleged victim was accidentally shot by one of his brothers either in the vehicle or before entering it. This would explain the bizarre behavior of the victim’s brothers in not transporting him immediately to a hospital and instead going to a sister’s house for a very lengthy period of time. The argument would have been made at trial that the prolonged stay at the alleged victim’s sister’s house was an attempt by his brothers to cleanse themselves of his blood and hide other critical evidence, namely their firearm.”

Sentencing Memo Richmond Sam - D.N.M._1-15-cr-03051_60_0

When he was sentenced, Browning gave him the minimum sentence: 15 months followed by three years of supervised probation.

See all the documents on Google Drive or view the case on CourtListener.com