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

John Lodgepole beat Michaelene Warren and staved in her head with a cinderblock
• When he saw she was still alive, he propped up her legs and beat her ankles with a cane
• Prosecutor Raquel Ruiz-Velez gave him a plea deal of six to eight years

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

Update: On April 2, 2021, the sentencing date was vacated. No reason was given and no new sentencing date has been set.

Albuquerque, N.M. — A sentencing hearing has been tentatively set for John Lodgepole, who pleaded guilty to manslaughter for beating Michaelene Warren, staving in her head with a cinderblock and, after he saw she was still alive, beating her ankles with a cane.

Lodgepole, 21, of Fruitland, is tentatively set to be sentenced at 3 p.m., April 14, 2021, by District Judge James Parker, according to a hearing notice. The hearing will be held virtually, via Zoom. No courtroom is listed on the hearing notice, entered on Feb. 10, 2021.

Lodgepole pleaded guilty to a single count of voluntary manslaughter, on Nov. 3, 2020, for Warren’s brutal beating death, on Aug. 1, 2019, in Nenahnezad. He signed a binding plea deal that set his sentence at just six to eight years. The deal was proffered by federal prosecutor Raquel Ruiz-Velez. The sentencing judge, Parker, can still reject it.

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

Lodgepole wrote in the plea deal that he punched Warren in the head and face 10 times because she called him names and threatened him. After throwing her to the ground, he took a cinderblock and “smashed the back of her head.”

Warren, 43, was a friend of Lodgepole’s mother.

“When I noticed that Jane Doe was still breathing, I took the block, placed it under her feet and used a cane to strike her ankles for approximately five or six times,” according to the plea deal.

The reasons behind the plea deal are unknown. He was indicted Oct. 9, 2019, on a charge of voluntary manslaughter.

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Raylan Reano sentenced to 9 months for probation violation, supervised release terminated

See the case write-up or previous stories

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Raylan Reano will be free from the federal court system after he serves nine months in prison after he admitted to violating the provisions of his supervised release.

Mug shot of Raylan Reano from the Santa Fe County Detention Center
Raylan Reano

Federal District Judge James Parker sentenced Reano, 27, of Zuni, to serve the nine months concurrently, or at the same time as, a sentence in Zuni tribal court, where Reano pleaded guilty to resisting arrest, intoxication, criminal mischief and drug abuse, according to court records.

Reano admitted to violating the conditions of his supervised release, including that he failed to report at a halfway house as ordered and committed more crimes while he was on release, during the Dec. 4, 2020 hearing, according to the minutes.

After Reano serves those nine months, he will be released from the supervised release he was on after serving a two-year sentence for killing his girlfriend in a drunk-driving crash.

Reano killed his girlfriend, Nicky Chavez, 26, in a drunk driving crash on Oct. 23, 2016. Parker sentenced him to two years on March 21, 2019 followed by three years of supervised release, after he previously pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter, a sentence served at the same time as multiple tribal sentences.

It is unclear from court records why Reano will be released early from his sentence of three years supervised release.

During the Dec. 4, 2020 hearing, federal prosecutor Sarah Mease asked that Reano be placed on supervised release. The minutes do not document what his attorney, Aric Elsenheimer, asked of the judge.

Reano’s issues with supervised release started the day the day he got out of prison, Jan. 3, 2020, after he admitted to using methamphetamine and Suboxone and he tested positive for drugs on Jan. 3, 4 and 7, 2020, Probation officer Christopher Fiedler wrote in a petition for a revocation of his supervised release filed March 25, 2020. In March, he was ordered to report to a halfway house, which he did not.

On Aug. 25, 2020, Parker ordered Reano remanded to prison for five months after he admitted to violating the conditions of his release by failing to follow the instructions of his probation officer, failing to reside at a halfway-house after his release and taking drugs, according to a judgement signed by Parker.

After he was released a second time, his probation officer again asked his supervised release be revoked in September after he failed, again, to report to a halfway house. Reano was subsequently arrested on Oct. 28, 2020 and held without bail pending the Dec. 4, 2020 hearing.

The case

According court documents and an autopsy report, on Oct. 23, 2016, Reano, with a blood-alcohol content of 0.365, drove off State Road 53, overcorrected and flipped, ejecting Chavez, killing her.

According to a response to a sentencing memorandum by Mease, witnesses said Reano was driving recklessly and at a “high rate of speed” when he lost control of his car and it rolled. He had a blood-alcohol content level, or BAC, of 0.365, over four times the legal limit of 0.08, and in the area of possible alcohol poisoning, which Mease described as “shockingly high.”

On Nov. 28, 2017, over a year after Raylan Reano killed Chavez, a federal grand jury indicted him on a single charge of involuntary manslaughter. The case was filed with the federal court on Dec. 5, 2017.

On March 23, 2018, just three months after his indictment, Reano pleaded guilty to a single charge of involuntary manslaughter, a deal prepared by prosecutor Sarah Mease and accepted by federal Magistrate Judge Karen Molzen.

There was no agreement in the plea as to sentence, but prosecutors agreed that the judge should reduce Reano sentence by six months because of his six-month sentence in tribal court for killing Chavez, according to the plea.

On March 21, 2019, District Judge James Parker sentenced Reano to two years, the minimum suggested for a level I criminal history after six months was subtracted for time served in tribal jail, and allowed him to serve the sentence at the same time as his convictions in tribal court. That was to be followed by supervised probation for three years, according to the court docket.

See the case documents on Google Drive or Document Cloud.

See the case write-up or previous stories

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Zuni man arrested again after serving five months for absconding

Raylan Reano is back in jail after he allegedly refused to report to a halfway house and was arrested by Zuni tribal police
• He received a two-year sentence for killing his girlfriend in a drunk-driving crash

See the case write-up or previous stories

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Five months after being sent to jail as a sanction for violating his supervised release and a month after being released, Raylan Reano is back in jail after he allegedly failed to report to a halfway house and was arrested by Zuni tribal police.

Reano, 27, of Zuni, was arrested on Oct. 28, 2020. The next day, federal Magistrate Judge Paul Briones ordered Reano held without bail during the release revocation. During the hearing, Reano waived his right to both a preliminary hearing and a detention hearing. Briones found that Reano is a danger to the community and there was a serious risk he would not appear for his next hearing.

Mug shot of Raylan Reano from the Santa Fe County Detention Center
Raylan Reano

Although court documents do not explicitly state when he was released after serving five months in jail, federal probation officer Christopher Fielder filed a petition to revoke Reano’s release on Sept. 11, 2020, after he confirmed, the previous day, that Reano did not go to the halfway house he had been ordered to for the first six months of his supervised release. He listed the sentence revocation range as three to nine months.

On Oct. 5, Fielder filed an amended petition to revoke Reano’s supervised release. Zuni tribal police arrested Reano on Sept. 30 for resisting arrest, intoxication, criminal mischief and drug abuse. He pleaded guilty on Oct 1, 2020, Fielder wrote.

On Oct. 28, Reano was arrested, according to the docket, although it is not clear if he was already in tribal custody.

A final revocation hearing is set for 2 p.m., Dec. 4, 2020, via Zoom.

Reano, 27, killed his girlfriend, Nicky Chavez, 26, in a drunk driving crash on Oct. 23, 2016. Federal District Judge James Parker sentenced him to two years, followed by three years of supervised release, after previously pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter, a sentence served at the same time as multiple tribal sentences.

Case timeline

According to federal court documents, Reano has repeatedly refused to comply with court instructions and ignored orders to spend the first six months of his release in a halfway house. To read more about the crash, the plea, or the arguments over sentencing, read the case write-up.

  • Oct. 23, 2016: Reano crashes his car while drunk near Ramah, killing girlfriend Nicky Chavez, 26.
  • Nov. 28, 2017: Reano is indicted on a single charge of involuntary manslaughter over a year after killing Chavez.
  • March 23, 2018: Reano pleads guilty to involuntary manslaughter and prosecutors agree any sentence should be reduced by six months because of a parallel tribal court conviction.
  • March 21, 2019: A year after Reano pleaded guilty, District Judge James Parker sentences him to two years in prison, the minimum suggested sentence for his criminal history, followed by three years supervised release.
  • Jan. 3, 2020: Reano is released from federal prison.
  • March 16, 2020: Parker grants Probation Officer Christopher Fielder’s request that Reano be ordered into a halfway house for six months after he “admitted to using methamphetamine and Buprenorphine (Suboxone) on January 3, 2020, while still in the custody of the Bureau of Prisons, the same day he commenced his term of supervised release.”
  • March 25, 2020: Fielder files a petition for the revocation of Reano’s supervised release, citing the drug use and that Reano went to live at home in Zuni instead of at the halfway house. The federal Bureau of Prisons previously listed him as absconding on March 24.
  • May 18, 2020: Magistrate Judge Laura Fashing allows Reano to remain out of custody when she hears his violation case on May 18. Fielder files an amended petition for a warrant or summons. The warrant is issued the following day.
  • June 18, 2020: Reano is arrested on a warrant and the next day, Magistrate Judge Kirtan Khalsa orders Reano be held without bail.
  • Aug. 25, 2020: Parker sends Reano back to jail for five months after Reano admitted to violating the conditions of his release by failing to follow the instructions of his probation officer, failing to reside at a halfway-house after his release and taking drugs, according to the judgement.
  • Sept. 11, 2020: Fielder files a second petition to revoke Reano’s supervised release after, on the previous day, he confirmed that Reano did not go to the halfway house as he had been required to.
  • Oct. 5, 2020: Fielder files an amended second petition and alleges that, on Sept. 30, Zuni tribal police arrested Reano for resisting arrest, intoxication, criminal mischief and drug abuse. He pleaded guilty on Oct 1, 2020, Fielder wrote.
  • Oct. 28, 2020: Reano is arrested and the following day, Briones orders him held without bail. He also waives his rights to a preliminary and detention hearings.

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Zuni man sentenced to 5 months for probation violation

Raylan Reano waived an evidentiary hearing
• District Judge James Parker ordered him back to prison for five months
• Reano killed girlfriend Nicky Chavez in a drunk driving crash in 2016

See the case write-up

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Raylan Reano will spend the next five months in prison after a judge ordered him back, Aug. 25, 2020, after he was initially released on supervised probation after serving a two-year sentence for killing his girlfriend in a drunk driving crash.

Mug shot of Raylan Reano from the Santa Fe County Detention Center
Raylan Reano

Reano, 27, admitted to violating the conditions of his release by failing to follow the instructions of his probation officer, failing to reside at a halfway-house after his release and taking drugs, according to a judgement signed by District Judge James Parker.

Reano killed his girlfriend, Nicky Chavez, 26, in a drunk driving crash on Oct. 23, 2016. He received a two-year sentence after pleading guilty to involuntary manslaughter.

Reano faced a maximum sentence of nine additional months for the probation violations, according to federal court documents.

Reano pleaded guilty on March 13, 2018, to a single count of involuntary manslaughter and a year later, Parker sentenced Reano to two years in federal prison, to be served at the same time as three tribal sentences, followed by supervised release for three years. One of those tribal sentences was for escaping from jail.

Reano’s probation officer,  Christopher Fiedler, reported problems with Reano as soon as he was initially released, on Jan. 3, 2020, and that Reano admitted to using drugs before even leaving prison, according to court documents.

In the original petition filed March 25, 2020, Fielder alleged Reano admitted to using methamphetamine and Suboxone and he tested positive for drugs on Jan. 3, 4 and 7, 2020.

In the second amended petition filed May 18, 2020, Fiedler wrote Reano tested positive for cocaine on March 20, 2020 and admitted to using cocaine in a subsequent interview. A drug testing sweat patch, applied on April 17, showed positive results for THC, the chemical in marijuana.

The case

To read more about the crash, the plea, or the arguments over sentencing, please read the case write-up.

According court documents and an autopsy report, on Oct. 23, 2016, Reano, with a blood-alcohol content of 0.365, drove off State Road 53, overcorrected and flipped, ejecting Chavez, killing her.

According to a response to a sentencing memorandum by prosecutor Sarah Mease, witnesses said Reano was driving recklessly and at a “high rate of speed” when he lost control of his car and it rolled. He had a blood-alcohol content level, or BAC, of 0.365, over four times the legal limit of 0.08, and in the area of possible alcohol poisoning, which Mease described as “shockingly high.”

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Zuni man held without bail pending probation revocation hearing

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — A 27-year-old Zuni man is being held without bail pending a probation revocation hearing after being arrested on June 18, 2020.

Mug shot of Raylan Reano from the Santa Fe County Detention Center
Raylan Reano

Raylan Reano killed his girlfriend, Nicky Chavez, 26, in a drunk driving crash on Oct. 23, 2016. He received a two-year sentence after pleading guilty to involuntary manslaughter.

After an initial probation revocation hearing on May 18, 2020, Magistrate Judge Laura Fashing set a tentative new hearing for May 22. The same day as the initial hearing, Federal probation officer Christopher Fiedler filed a second amended petition for the revocation of Reano’s probation. It was not until June 18 that federal agents arrested Reano on a warrant, dated May 19.

In the original petition filed March 25, 2020, Fielder alleged Reano admitted to using methamphetamine and Suboxone and he tested positive for drugs on Jan. 3, 4 and 7, 2020. He used that as a basis to request Reano have a special condition added to his sentence that he be required to live at a “residential reentry center” for up to six months. On March 16, 2020, District Judge James Parker, who initially sentenced him, added the special condition to Reano’s sentence.

In the second amended petition, Fiedler wrote Reano tested positive for cocaine on March 20, 2020 and admitted to using cocaine in a subsequent interview. A drug testing sweat patch, applied on April 17, showed positive results for THC, the chemical in marijuana.

Raylan Reano could spend up to another nine months in prison if his release is revoked, according to federal court documents.

On June 19, at a hearing on his revocation, Reano waived a preliminary hearing and a detention hearing.

A revocation hearing is set for 2 p.m., Aug. 25, via Zoom, in front of Parker.

Reano pleaded guilty on March 13, 2018, to a single count of involuntary manslaughter and a year later, Parker sentenced Reano to two years in federal prison, to be served at the same time as three tribal sentences, followed by supervised release for three years. One of those tribal sentences was for escaping from jail.

According court documents and an autopsy report, on Oct. 23, 2016, Reano, with a blood-alcohol content of 0.365, drove off State Road 53, overcorrected and flipped, ejecting Chavez, killing her.

To read more about the crash, the plea, or the arguments over sentencing, please read the case write-up.

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Absconder warrant requested for Zuni man who killed girlfriend in DWI crash

Raylan Reano killed girlfriend Nicky Chavez in a 2016 crash outside Ramah
Judge James Parker gave Reano a 2-year sentence for killing Chavez, a mother of two
• Reano allegedly violated his probation, after release, by absconding

Read more about the case here

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Probation officers have requested a warrant for a Raylan Reano, 27, of Zuni, after he allegedly repeatedly violated the conditions of his supervised release and absconded after serving a federal prison sentence for killing his 26-year-old girlfriend Nicky Chavez in 2016.

Mug shot of Raylan Reano from the Santa Fe County Detention Center
Raylan Reano

After an initial hearing on May 18, 2020, where Magistrate Judge Laura Fashing  took no action was taken, a following hearing on his alleged probation violation was tentatively set for May 22, but court records show there has been no more movement in the case.

Raylan Reano could spend up to another nine months in prison if his release is revoked, according to federal court documents. Reano pleaded guilty on March 13, 2018, to a single count of involuntary manslaughter and a year later, federal District Judge James Parker sentenced Reano to two years in federal prison, to be served at the same time as three tribal sentences, followed by supervised release for three years. One of those tribal sentences was for escaping from jail.

According court documents and an autopsy report, on Oct. 23, 2016, Reano, with a blood-alcohol content of 0.365, drove off State Road 53, overcorrected and flipped, ejecting Chavez, killing her.

Federal probation officer Christopher Fiedler alleged Reano admitted to using methamphetamine and Suboxone and he tested positive for drugs on Jan. 3, 4 and 7, 2020, he wrote in a petition for a revocation of his supervised release filed March 25, 2020. He used that as a basis to request Reano have a special condition added to his sentence that he be required to live at a “residential reentry center” for up to six months. On March 16, 2020, Parker added the special condition to Reano’s sentence.

“This was in response to the defendant failing to comply with his substance abuse treatment plan,” he wrote.

Neither the request nor the condition appear on the public docket and appear to have been sealed. There is no documentation requesting they be sealed or indication how, or why, the sealing circumvented the normal rules for court filings.

Fiedler’s March 25, 2020 petition alleged that Reano didn’t call to schedule his assessment appointment for the reentry program on March 23, as ordered. He wrote:

“On March 24, 2020, this officer received notification from staff at Diersen Charities Residential Reentry Center that the defendant left their facility without permission and was considered an absconder. Later that same day, the defendant contacted this officer by phone and confirmed that he decided to leave the residential reentry center and returned back to his mother’s residence in Zuni, New Mexico.”

The federal Bureau of Prisons lists his status as an absconder.

Fiedler wrote that the revocation range is three to nine months.

Aerial panorama, Dowa Yalanne near Black Rock (left) and Zuni (right), NM, on September 9, 2019.
Aerial panorama, Dowa Yalanne near Black Rock (left) and Zuni (right), NM, on September 9, 2019. Photo by Lance Cheung/USDA/Flickr

Instead of a warrant, Reano was issued a summons to appear on a revocation hearing which, after being pushed off, was set for May 18, 2020.

During that hearing in front of Fashing, Mease requested Reano be arrested, Elsenheimer requested he remain free and probation said that a second amended petition was filed and a warrant was requested, according to the minutes.

No petition appears in the public court record.

The hearing was tentatively moved to May 22, 2020 but no further filings appear in the court record after May 18, 2020. The minutes do not state if Reano was ordered detained or allowed to remain free.

Reano previously escaped from the Zuni jail, a crime that was charged in tribal court, federal prosecutor Sarah Mease wrote in a response to a sentencing memorandum.

He also attacked a fellow inmate while in the Zuni jail and on Nov. 12, 2016, a week after killing Chavez, he was found drunk and sleeping in a vehicle, Mease wrote.

Reano and Chavez were both enrolled Zuni tribal members.

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John Lodgepole: Michaelene Warren — 8-1-2019

 

Summary

On Aug. 1, 2019, John Lodgepole allegedly went to the house of a woman he knew in Nenahnezad, near Fruitland, and became verbally abusive toward her and Michaelene Warren, 43. Later that night he allegedly came back, threw the Warren to the ground and kicked her in the head multiple times. He staved the back of her head in with a cinderblock and beat her ankles with a cane, according to the plea deal. Investigators found a bloody bat near the scene, according to an affidavit for a criminal complaint.

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

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

On Nov. 3, 2020, Lodgepole pleaded guilty to a single count of voluntary manslaughter. The plea deal sets his sentence at 6 to 8 years, if District Judge James Parker accepts it at sentencing. Sentencing was set for 3 p.m., April 14, 2021. That date was vacated on April 2, with no reason listed, and no new hearing has has been set.

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

The incident

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Spaeth charged Lodgepole with murder.

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

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

The plea deal offers a slightly different set of facts than what investigators initially found.

Lodgepole wrote in the plea deal that he punched his mother’s friend in the head and face 10 times because she called him names and threatened him. After throwing her to the ground, he took a cinderblock and “smashed the back of her head.”

“When I noticed that Jane Doe was still breathing, I took the block, placed it under her feet and used a cane to strike her ankles for approximately five or six times,” according to the plea deal.

Autopsy report

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

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

Her blood-alcohol content was 0.25.

Indictment

Although Lodgepole was arrested on Aug. 1, the court docket does not show that he was ever arraigned or assigned a lawyer until two months later, when prosecutors indicted him, on Oct. 9.

The complaint for his arrest, and the entire case, appears to have been sealed until Oct. 24, 2019, the day before he was arraigned on the indicted charge of voluntary manslaughter, a downgrade from murder.

On Oct. 25, 2019, in Albuquerque, federal Magistrate Judge Paul Briones ordered Lodgepole held without bail and on Oct. 28, Magistrate Judge Kirtan Khalsa arraigned him. Lodgepole pleaded not guilty and his lawyer, Melissa Morris, waived a detention hearing.

Nothing in the court record indicates why Lodgepole would have been arrested, and held without bail, without being arraigned or assigned an attorney, or why the case would have been sealed, even though he was arrested.

Court delays

Since the arraignment, Lodgepole’s case has been continued three times. Once on Oct. 30, 2019, once on Jan. 13, 2020 and once on March 10, 2020.

According to Morris’ third motion for a continuance, filed March 6, 2020, plea negotiations had not begun in the case.

Plea deal

On Nov. 3, 2020, Lodgepole pleaded guilty to a single count of voluntary manslaughter in front of Magistrate Judge Steven Yarbrough.

Federal prosecutor Raquel Ruiz-Velez‘s offered plea deal states Lodgepole can only be sentenced to 6 to 8 years in prison for the brutal beating death if it is ultimately accepted by a federal district court judge.

Magistrate Judge Steven Yarbrough accepted the plea, although he deferred final acceptance until sentencing in front of a district court judge, according to a plea minutes sheet.

Lodgepole wrote in a plea deal that he punched his mother’s friend in the head and face 10 times because she called him names and threatened him. After throwing her to the ground, he took a cinderblock and “smashed the back of her head.”

“When I noticed that Jane Doe was still breathing, I took the block, placed it under her feet and used a cane to strike her ankles for approximately five or six times,” according to the plea deal.

Why voluntary manslaughter?

The federal charge of voluntary manslaughter is defined as the unlawful killing of someone without malice and “upon a sudden quarrel or heat of passion.” It is a downgrade from first- and second-degree murder.

According to the indictment, Lodgepole killed Warren “upon a sudden quarrel and heat of passion, and therefore without malice.”

Lodgepole was initially charged with murder by Spaeth.

According to federal law, first-degree murder is done with “malice aforethought” and is “every murder perpetrated by poison, lying in wait, or any other kind of willful, deliberate, malicious, and premeditated killing.”

First-degree murder is also when someone dies “as part of a pattern or practice of assault or torture against a child or children.” In the murder statute, torture is defined as the crime of torture, except without the requirement that the torturer is doing so “under the color of law.” Under that definition, torture is an act “specifically intended to inflict severe physical or mental pain or suffering.”

In the plea deal, Lodgepole said he took the cinderblock that he used to bash the back of Warren’s head in with, put it under the legs and beat her ankles with a cane after he saw she was still breathing.

According to federal sentencing guidelines, a judge can increase a sentence beyond the sentencing guidelines if the perpetrator’s behavior was “unusually heinous, cruel, brutal, or degrading to the victim.”

“Examples of extreme conduct include torture of a victim, gratuitous infliction of injury, or prolonging of pain or humiliation,” the guidelines state.

How the grand jury that indicted Lodgepole reached the conclusion that voluntary manslaughter was the appropriate charge is a mystery as grand juries are secret. The prosecutor’s signature on the indictment is inscrutable, although Ruiz-Velez is the only attorney listed on the docket.

However, multiple articles articulate how grand juries will follow the lead of the prosecutor presenting the case to them. In the case of Breonna Taylor, a grand juror said that homicide charges were never even presented to them.

University of Dayton Law Professor Susan Brenner wrote in a 1996 article that “the federal grand jury has become little more than a rubber stamp, indiscriminately authorizing prosecutorial decisions.”

A 2017 article in the Harvard Law Review that has no listed author opines that the failure to indict the officers who allegedly killed Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., and Eric Garner in Staten Island, N.Y., “merely drew public attention to flaws” that have been there the whole time.

“The complete prosecutorial control over the grand jury — particularly over the flow of information and grand jury procedure — solidifies the grand jury’s dependence on the prosecutor,” the anonymous author wrote.

Sentencing date set

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

Do you have information about this case? NM Homicide needs your assistance to tell the stories of homicide victims. Please fill out this form.

See the case documents on Google Drive or Document Cloud

Past stories

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

Fruitland man to receive 6-8 years for woman’s beating death

Man set to plea in Nenahnezad beating death

Trial in Nenahnezad beating death postponed for third time

Raylan Reano: Nicky Chavez — 10-23-2016

 

Summary

On Oct. 23, 2016, Raylan Reano, 27, crashed, killing his 26-year-old girlfriend Nicky Chavez, mother of two, on State Road 53 in Ramah, in the exterior boundaries of the Zuni Pueblo. Chavez was not wearing a seat belt and was ejected through the rear window.

Mug shot of Raylan Reano from the Santa Fe County Detention Center
Raylan Reano

Nov. 28, 2017, a year after killing Chavez, Reano was indicted. Three months later he pleaded guilty and on March 21, 2019, he received a two-year sentence followed by three years of supervised release, the minimum sentence suggested by sentencing guidelines.

After being released from federal prison, he admitted to using methamphetamine and Suboxone and was ordered into a residential reentry program for six months. After he did not set up an appointment for the program, and then left the treatment facility he was in, probation officers requested his release be revoked.

He served a five-month sentence and was released again before being arrested, again, for picking up new charges and failing to report to the halfway house. Judge James Parker, who initially gave him the two-year sentence, sentenced him to nine months in jail, concurrent with a tribal case, and terminated his supervised release.

 

The incident

While driving drunk on State Road 53 through Ramah, Raylan Reano crashed his car, killing girlfriend Nicky Chavez, 26.

Aerial panorama, Dowa Yalanne near Black Rock (left) and Zuni (right), NM, on September 9, 2019.
Aerial panorama, Dowa Yalanne near Black Rock (left) and Zuni (right), NM, on September 9, 2019. Photo by Lance Cheung/USDA/Flickr

Details on the crash, from court records, are few. Reano was indicted, and never charged federally at the magistrate level, for killing Chavez.

According to a response to a sentencing memorandum by prosecutor Sarah Mease, witnesses said Reano was driving recklessly and at a “high rate of speed” when he lost control of his car and it rolled. He had a blood-alcohol content level, or BAC, of 0.365, over four times the legal limit of 0.08, and in the area of possible alcohol poisoning, which Mease described as “shockingly high.”

Most of the details of the crash come from a deputy field investigation conducted by the Office of the Medical Investigator.

Field Investigator Paulena Houston wrote that Chavez was not wearing a seat belt and was ejected from the rear window in the crash, about 110 feet from the car. She died at the scene.

Houston wrote:

“The blue dodge passenger vehicle starts to runoff (sic) the roadway at least 50 yards; from where it came to a rest, it then drives over a driveway ditch which damages the right front and back tires. The vehicle then loses control as it turns towards the roadway, flips on its right side then starts to roll at least 2 to 3 times. The vehicle then lands back on its wheels, front end facing SE, and all doors closed.”

The stretch of road where Reano crashed is straight, she wrote.

Chavez suffered severe cuts on her head and cans were thrown out from with crash, along with other debris, Houston wrote.

Chavez’s mother discovered the crash as she was driving to work and positively identified her daughter. Zuni police investigator Lee Lucio conducted the tribal investigation, she wrote.

According to the autopsy report, Chavez died from blunt trauma of the head, chest and abdomen.

In a sentencing memorandum, Reano’s attorney, federal public defender Aric Elsenheimer wrote that Reano drove off the road, overcorrected and flipped the car.

The night of the crash, Chavez and Reano drank heavily and they left Chavez’s home at 4 p.m., with Chavez driving. They continued to drink into the night and at some point, Reano started driving, Elsenheimer wrote.

Aerial view from near Dowa Yalanne near Black Rock (right) and Zuni (left), NM, on September 9, 2019.
Aerial view from near Dowa Yalanne near Black Rock (right) and Zuni (left), NM, on September 9, 2019. Photo by Lance Cheung/USDA/Flickr

Elsenheimer wrote, wrongly, that Chavez had an “astonishingly high” blood-alcohol content, or BAC, of 0.35. According to a toxicology report, her blood-alcohol content was 0.30. She was not driving when the accident happened. He did not note that his client’s own blood-alcohol content was 0.36.

Chavez also had cocaine in her system, according to the toxicology report.

Although Elsenheimer wrote that his client took responsibility by pleading guilty, he framed Chavez’s death as being distanced from Reano’s responsibility for killing her, noting Reano was hurt by “what happened” to Chavez, rather than what he did to her.

“Mr. Reano deeply regrets his actions and is devastated by what happened to N.C.,” Elsenheimer wrote.

Reano and Chavez were both enrolled Zuni tribal members.

The victim

Do you have information about this case, or are willing to talk about victim Nicky Chavez? NM Homicide needs your assistance. Please fill out this form or email us at nmhomicide at gmail dot com.

According to Mease’s response to the sentencing memorandum, Chavez was the mother of two young children and “in the prime of her life.”

Chavez’s mother declined to give an impact statement to the investigators writing the presentence report, she wrote.

“To be clear, this decision does not stem from apathy,” Mease wrote. “Quite the contrary—the victim’s mother feels that engaging in this process is simply too painful following the tragic loss of her daughter.”

Chavez’s Facebook page provides little, other than that she studied nursing previously and went to Zuni High School.

Reano and Chavez began dating in August 2016 and “alcohol was a large part of their relationship,” Elsenheimer wrote in his sentencing memorandum.

Court proceedings

Indictment

On Nov. 28, 2017, over a year after Raylan Reano killed Chavez, a federal grand jury indicted him on a single charge of involuntary manslaughter. The case was filed with the federal court on Dec. 5, 2017.

Plea

On March 23, 2018, just three months after his indictment, Reano pleaded guilty to a single charge of involuntary manslaughter, a deal prepared by prosecutor Sarah Mease and accepted by federal Magistrate Judge Karen Molzen.

There was no agreement in the plea as to sentence, but prosecutors agreed that the judge should reduce Reano sentence by six months because of his six-month sentence in tribal court for killing Chavez, according to the plea.

Prosecutors also agreed to recommend a sentence in the low end of the calculated guideline range, according to the plea.

Sentence

Limited culpability

Elsenheimer wrote in a sentencing memorandum on July 24, 2018, that he wanted his client to vary the guideline sentence down and give his client a sentence of 18 months (1 1/2 years) and run the sentence at the same time as his tribal sentence. Prosecutors did not oppose giving him the six months credit and allowing him to serve both the tribal and federal sentences at the same time.

Among the reasons were a difficult childhood and early life. He grew up on the Zuni Pueblo with his mother, father and brother. His alcoholic father would often fight with his mother and drove the two children from the house, he wrote.

In 2014, his father died of a heart attack and at some point his brother, Jaylen Reano, was killed outside their home and after his death, he fell into a deep depression and began to drink heavily, Elsenheimer wrote.

Searches for Jaylen Reano turn up no results and a records request for his autopsy report is pending with the Office of the Medical Investigator.

Reano did not deserve a sentence of more than a year and a half because he has no prior criminal history, although he does have tribal convictions for theft, intoxication and escape from a jail, he wrote.

Elsenheimer wrote that Chavez had a high blood-alcohol content, although he alleged she had a higher BAC than was reported in the toxicology report. He also wrote that she had cocaine in her system and that she chose to not wear a seat belt, leading to her being ejected.

Reano’s drinking was a result of the loss of his brother and father, he wrote.

Elsenheimer also included a letter from Reano’s sister, Mellory Mahkee, who wrote that her brother deserved a second chance and that all his woes were attributable to his brother dying in his arms.

Prosecution’s requested sentence

Mease wrote in a response to Elsenheimer’s sentencing memorandum, filed Aug. 3, 2018, that prosecutors, pursuant to the plea deal, were asking for a sentence at the low end of the range. He had an adjusted offense level of 19 with a criminal history category of I, bringing his sentence range to 30 to 37 months, although a criminal history category of II would increase the sentencing range to 33 to 41 months.

Federal sentencing table, levels 17 to 19
Levels 17 to 22 of the federal sentencing table. With a criminal history of I, the guidelines for Raylan Reano’s killing of Nicky Chavez were 30 (2.5 years) to 37 months (3 years). One criminal history level higher, of II, and his range increased to 33 months (2.75 years) to 41 months (3.4 years).

Reano had a base offense level of 22 (sentence range 41 to 51 months at level I criminal history), and received a three-level downgrade for his plea, she wrote.

The pre-sentence report suggested Reano might properly have a criminal history category of II because, following his killing of Chavez, he committed three more tribal offenses. Mease wrote (internal citations removed):

“First, on November 12, 2016, just days after the incident in the present case, Defendant was arrested after being found intoxicated and sleeping inside a vehicle. Then, while Defendant was in tribal custody, he assaulted another inmate. Finally, in December 2017, Defendant was arrested following his escape from the Zuni Detention Center in Zuni, New Mexico. All three incidents resulted in tribal convictions.”

Mease wrote that Chavez’s mother found it too painful to write a victim impact letter.

She wrote that the prosecution was advocating for either a 24-month sentence, with a criminal history level of I, or 27 months, with a criminal history level of II. The sentencing guidelines allow courts to consider conduct after an initial arrest.

Low sentence

On March 21, 2019, District Judge James Parker sentenced Reano to two years, the minimum suggested for a level I criminal history after six months was subtracted for time served in tribal jail, and allowed him to serve the sentence at the same time as his convictions in tribal court. That was to be followed by supervised probation for three years, according to the court docket.

Probation violation

Initial problems

The day Raylan Reano was released from prison, Jan. 3, 2020, he allegedly admitted to using methamphetamine and Suboxone and he tested positive for drugs on Jan. 3, 4 and 7, 2020, Probation officer Christopher Fiedler wrote in a petition for a revocation of his supervised release filed March 25, 2020.

On March 12, 2020, supervisors requested a special condition be added to Reano’s sentence, that he be required to live at a “residential reentry center” for up to six months, Fiedler wrote.

“This was in response to the defendant failing to comply with his substance abuse treatment plan,” he wrote.

On March 16, 2020, Parker added the special condition to Reano’s sentence, Fiedler wrote.

Neither the request nor the condition appear on the public docket and appear to have been sealed. There is no documentation requesting they be sealed or indication how, or why, the sealing circumvented the normal rules for court filings.

Fiedler’s March 25, 2020 petition alleged that Reano didn’t call to schedule his assessment appointment for the reentry program on March 23, as ordered. He wrote:

“On March 24, 2020, this officer received notification from staff at Diersen Charities Residential Reentry Center that the defendant left their facility without permission and was considered an absconder. Later that same day, the defendant contacted this officer by phone and confirmed that he decided to leave the residential reentry center and returned back to his mother’s residence in Zuni, New Mexico.”

Fiedler wrote that the revocation range is three to nine months.

Instead of a warrant, Reano was issued a summons to appear on a revocation hearing which, after being pushed off, was set for May 18, 2020.

During that hearing in front of Magistrate Judge Laura Fashing, Mease requested Reano be arrested, Elsenheimer requested he remain free and probation said that a second amended petition was filed and a warrant was requested, according to the minutes.

The minutes do not state if Reano was ordered detained or allowed to remain free.

Fielder filed a second amended petition for the revocation of Reano’s probation. It was not until June 18 that federal agents arrested Reano on a warrant, dated May 19.

Remanded to jail

On Aug. 25, 2020, Parker ordered Reano remanded to prison for five months after he admitted to violating the conditions of his release by failing to follow the instructions of his probation officer, failing to reside at a halfway-house after his release and taking drugs, according to a judgement signed by Parker.

Back in jail

On Sept. 11, 2020, Fielder filed a petition to revoke Reano’s release, after he confirmed, the previous day, that Reano did not go to the halfway house he had been ordered to for the first six months of his supervised release. He listed the sentence revocation range as three to nine months. Court documents do not state when Reano was released following his five-month sentence.

On Oct. 5, Fielder filed an amended petition to revoke Reano’s supervised release. Zuni tribal police arrested Reano on Sept. 30 for resisting arrest, intoxication, criminal mischief and drug abuse. He pleaded guilty on Oct 1, 2020, Fielder wrote.

On Oct. 28, Reano was arrested, according to the docket, although it is not clear if he was already in tribal custody.

A final revocation hearing was set for 2 p.m., Dec. 4, 2020, via Zoom.

Remanded a second time

On Dec. 4, 2020, Reano admitted to violating the conditions of his supervised release and Parker sentenced him to nine months in jail and terminated his supervised release early, set to run for three years, although court documents do not state why.

See the case documents on Google Drive or Document Cloud

Case timeline

  • Oct. 23, 2016: Reano crashes his car while drunk near Ramah, killing girlfriend Nicky Chavez, 26.
  • Nov. 28, 2017: Reano is indicted on a single charge of involuntary manslaughter over a year after killing Chavez.
  • March 23, 2018: Reano pleads guilty to involuntary manslaughter and prosecutors agree any sentence should be reduced by six months because of a parallel tribal court conviction.
  • March 21, 2019: A year after Reano pleaded guilty, District Judge James Parker sentences him to two years in prison followed by three years supervised probation, the minimum suggested sentence for his criminal history.
  • Jan. 3, 2020: Reano is released from federal prison.
  • March 16, 2020: Parker grants Probation Officer Christopher Fielder’s request that Reano be ordered into a halfway house for six months after he “admitted to using methamphetamine and Buprenorphine (Suboxone) on January 3, 2020, while still in the custody of the Bureau of Prisons, the same day he commenced his term of supervised release.”
  • March 25, 2020: Fielder files a petition for the revocation of Reano’s supervised release, citing the drug use and that Reano went to live at home in Zuni instead of at the halfway house. The federal Bureau of Prisons previously listed him as absconding on March 24.
  • May 18, 2020: Magistrate Judge Laura Fashing allows Reano to remain out of custody when she hears his violation case on May 18. Fielder files an amended petition for a warrant or summons. The warrant is issued the following day.
  • June 18, 2020: Reano is arrested on a warrant and the next day, Magistrate Judge Kirtan Khalsa orders Reano be held without bail.
  • Aug. 25, 2020: Parker sends Reano back to jail for five months after Reano admitted to violating the conditions of his release by failing to follow the instructions of his probation officer, failing to reside at a halfway-house after his release and taking drugs, according to the judgement.
  • Sept. 11, 2020: Fielder files a second petition to revoke Reano’s supervised release after, on the previous day, he confirmed that Reano did not go to the halfway house as he had been required to.
  • Oct. 5, 2020: Fielder files an amended second petition and alleges that, on Sept. 30, Zuni tribal police arrested Reano for resisting arrest, intoxication, criminal mischief and drug abuse. He pleaded guilty on Oct 1, 2020, Fielder wrote.
  • Oct. 28, 2020: Reano is arrested and the following day, Briones orders him held without bail. He also waives his rights to a preliminary and detention hearings.
  • Dec. 4, 2020: Reano admits to violating his supervised release and Parker sentences him to nine months in jail, concurrent with a Zuni tribal court sentence. Parker also releases Reano from further supervised release.

Past stories

Zuni man arrested again after serving five months for absconding

Zuni man sentenced to 5 months for probation violation

Zuni man held without bail pending probation revocation hearing

Absconder warrant requested for Zuni man who killed girlfriend in DWI crash