Zachariah Joe sentenced to 15 years for stabbing death of cousin, per binding plea

• The binding plea deal offered by prosecutor David Cowen mandated a sentence of 15 years
Zacharian Joe stabbed cousin Brett Micah Morgan to death as he begged him to stop

See the full case summary or past stories on the case

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — A federal district court judge sentenced Zachariah Joe to 15 years in prison for fatally stabbing his cousin in Shiprock, after accepting a binding plea agreement.

District Judge James Browning sentenced Joe on Jan. 14, 2021, to 15 years followed by supervised release for three years, according to a sentencing minutes sheet filed eight days after the hearing.

The minutes do not state if anyone spoke at the hearing.

Joe admitted to stabbing his cousin, Brett Micah Morgan, 10 times, although court documents indicate he also kicked him after repeatedly stabbing him. Morgan begged him to stop as Joe stabbed him, according to court documents.

Joe owes $6,546 to his cousin’s family, according to the judgement filed in the case.

He pleaded guilty on Oct. 31, 2019, to a criminal information charging him with second-degree murder for Brett Micah Morgan’s death, offered by federal prosecutor David Cowen. Joe admitted to stabbing Morgan 10 times in the chest and neck.

Multiple family members wrote letters to the judge encouraging him to accept the plea.

The stabbing

On Jan. 3, 2019, Joe showed up at a house where Morgan, 32, and another man, identified by the initials B.M., were hanging out. Joe had just been fired from Burger King in Shiprock, Federal Bureau of Investigations Agent Lance Roundy wrote in an affidavit for a criminal complaint for the arrest of Joe.

Photo of Shiprock on a snowy day.
Shiprock in the snow. Photo by Larry Lamsa/Flickr. CC-BY

Joe hit Morgan in the face with the back of his hand, then tried to attack Morgan, on the ground, but B.M. wrestled him to the ground. Morgan and B.M. got out of the house and Joe could be heard searching through kitchen drawers and cabinets. B.M. ran to Joe’s house and broke a window. While he was gone, Joe had stabbed Morgan 10 times, Roundy wrote.

Joe admitted in the plea deal to stabbing Morgan as he begged him to stop.

Another witness, D.T., told Roundy that he saw Joe kicking an unresponsive Morgan, after he had been stabbed, Roundy wrote.

See the full case summary, as well as a more complete narrative of the killing. Read the affidavit for a criminal complaint written by FBI Agent Lance RoundySee all the documents on Google Drive or Document Cloud view the case and documents on Court Listener.

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

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Sentencing date set for Zachariah Joe in stabbing death a year after guilty plea

See the full case summary or past stories on the case

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Over a year after he pleaded guilty to stabbing his cousin 10 times, as he begged for him to stop, Zachariah Joe will be sentenced to 15 years in prison during a virtual hearing in January 2021.

Joe, 28, of Shiprock, is set be virtually sentenced at 3 p.m., Jan. 14, 2021 in the Vermejo courtroom in Albuquerque by District Judge James Browning.

He pleaded guilty on Oct. 31, 2019, to a criminal information charging him with second-degree murder for Brett Micah Morgan’s death, offered by federal prosecutor David Cowen. Joe admitted to stabbing Morgan 10 times in the chest and neck. The plea deal mandates Morgan’s sentence will be 15 years, assuming Browning accepts the plea.

Browning’s only discretion will be in how long Morgan will be on supervised release after serving his prison sentence. Magistrate Judge Kirtan Khalsa initially accepted the plea in October 2019.

Cowen and Joe’s attorney, Melissa Morris, both wrote sentencing memorandums although did not order a pre-sentence report be completed.

Joe will appear remotely for the hearing.

The stabbing

On Jan. 3, 2019, Joe showed up at a house where Morgan, 32, and another man, identified by the initials B.M., were hanging out. Joe had just been fired from Burger King in Shiprock, Federal Bureau of Investigations Agent Lance Roundy wrote in an affidavit for a criminal complaint for the arrest of Joe.

Joe hit Morgan in the face with the back of his hand, then tried to attack Morgan, on the ground, but B.M. wrestled him to the ground. Morgan and B.M. got out of the house and Joe could be heard searching through kitchen drawers and cabinets. B.M. ran to Joe’s house and broke a window. While he was gone, Joe had stabbed Morgan 10 times, Roundy wrote.

Joe admitted in the plea deal to stabbing Morgan as he begged him to stop.

Another witness, D.T., told Roundy that he saw Joe kicking an unresponsive Morgan, after he had been stabbed, Roundy wrote.

Sentencing memorandums

Cowen and Morris both submitted sentencing memorandums imploring Browning to accept the binding plea deal, which mandates a sentence of 15 years for Joe.

Cowen wrote in his sentencing memorandum that Morgan was Joe’s close friend, and cousin, and that his death was “completely avoidable,” although he never specifies how it was avoidable. At the onset of the case, he worked with Morris to “investigate what took place with the goal of working towards a reasonable outcome.”

Cowen wrote that the sentencing guidelines for Joe put his sentence much higher, at just under 20 to to 24 years, but the decrease in sentence will avoid a trial. He wrote:

The proposed plea agreement avoids forcing the victim’s family, who is also Defendant’s extended family, to testify about the facts outlined above. One of the victim’s family members voiced an opinion that the family did not agree with the stipulated 15-year sentence, PSR ¶ 102, but in finalizing the plea agreement the government received support to resolve the case with this proposed 15-year sentence from the victim’s mother and stepfather. This support naturally came with emotion and a realization that no term of imprisonment would bring the victim back to the family.

The plea and 15-year sentence will allow the victim’s family “an opportunity to reconnect with the Defendant’s side of the family,” Cowen wrote.

Photo of Shiprock on a snowy day.
Shiprock in the snow. Photo by Larry Lamsa/Flickr. CC-BY

Joe’s familial history was a childhood of physical abuse perpetrated by his alcoholic father, he wrote.

“According to Defendant’s mother, he unfortunately inherited his father’s tendency to become angry when he drinks alcohol,” Cowen wrote.

Joe had a history of misdemeanor convictions from age 18 to 21, which appear to be two drunk driving arrests and a charge of assault on an officer. He was never convicted of a felony but the convictions gave him a criminal history category of IV, he wrote.

Morris wrote in her sentencing memorandum for Joe that he has been drinking since he was 13 and when he drinks, “his personality changes and he sometimes does things that he would not do otherwise.”

Although his family is “saddened and confused by his actions,” they are still supportive of him. Joe never intended to kill his cousin and does not know how the events leading up to his brutal stabbing resulted in it, she wrote.

“Mr. Joe respectfully submits that this offense, like every other criminal offense he committed in the past, is the product of the disease of alcoholism, which in turn may be the product of his traumatic childhood experiences and his family history of alcoholism,” Morris wrote.

Morris submitted a packet of seven letters on Joe’s behalf, dated around December 2019.

  • Joe’s maternal aunt, Fremina Funmaker, submitted a letter on behalf of Joe and asked that the judge make a decision that “will allow him to seek mental well-being and self-development through sentencing.”
  • Aunt Tiva Esplain wrote that Joe is not a violent person and he has made large and small mistakes in the past and that alcohol caused him to stab his cousin 10 times.
  • Cousin Jerilyn Frank wrote that Joe is one of the “funny guys” and has a contagious laugh.
  • Joe’s mother, Miranda Begay, wrote that Joe and Morgan were “two peas in a pod” and there was not a day that went by when they had not communicated with each other. Without access to alcohol, Morgan would have never died.

 

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 full case summary, as well as a more complete narrative of the killing. Read the affidavit for a criminal complaint written by FBI Agent Lance Roundy. See all the documents on Google Drive or Document Cloud view the case and documents on Court Listener.

Continue reading “Sentencing date set for Zachariah Joe in stabbing death a year after guilty plea”

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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Gallup man indicted 16 months after allegedly killing child in DWI crash in July 2018

  • Harrison Davis allegedly crashed a vehicle while drunk on July 1, 2018, which led to the death of a child
  • A federal judge released Davis to the custody of his wife

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — A year after an alleged drunk driving crash that resulted in the death of a child, a federal grand jury indicted a Gallup man on a charge of child endangerment resulting in death.

Gallup. Photo by Wolfgang Staudt/Flickr

The grand jury indicted Harrison Davis on the single count on Nov. 25, 2019, although the case was not entered into the federal court system until Dec. 3, 2019. He was arrested a week later, on Dec. 11, 2019, by Federal Bureau of Investigations Agent Brad Simons, according to an arrest warrant.

Details of the case are extremely scarce and, according to the indictment, Davis is a Native American who was allegedly driving while intoxicated with a boy, age unlisted, and that driving while drunk caused the boy’s death.

It is not clear from court documents if the boy died immediately following the crash, on July 1, 2018, or later on.

According to a motion to continue filed on Jan. 6, 2020, by public defender Sylvia Baiz, the crash happened “in a remote area near Gallup.”

Davis was initially ordered detained on Dec. 12, 2019, in federal court in Albuquerque following a request by prosecutor Frederick Mendenhall, according to a minute sheet.

Davis was arraigned a day later on Dec. 13, 2019, pleaded not guilty to the charge. A different federal prosecutor, David Cowen, did not object to the recommendations of the pretrial services officer and the judge adopted them, according to court minutes.

The minutes sheet does not list what the conditions are. The order releasing him states he can only travel in New Mexico, he can talk to his family but not about the case, he may not use alcohol and he must participate in any outpatient programs ordered by pretrial services. Federal District Court Judge Karen Molzen ordered him released to the custody of his wife, Juanita Davis, and allowed to live in their home near Gallup, according to a minute sheet.

According to the court docket, the case was continued twice, once in January and once in March, and is now set for a tentative trial of June 8, 2020, on the trailing docket.

Davis is being federally charged with a state crime, which is a first-degree felony in New Mexico law.

According to the federal statute, if found guilty, Davis would face the same penalties as he would in New Mexico.

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Shiprock man pleads guilty to second-degree murder for killing fellow Navajo Nation man

  • Prosecutor David Cowen’s binding plea deal mandates a 15-year sentence for Zachariah Joe
  • The magistrate judge deferred acceptance of the plea until the “final disposition hearing”
  • No sentencing hearing has been set

See the full case summary

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — A 28-year-old Shiprock man pleaded guilty to second-degree murder, Oct. 31, 2019, for the stabbing death of a 32-year-old Navajo Nation tribal member at the beginning of the year.

Shiprock Pinnacle. Photo by DiAnn L’Roy/Flickr

Zachariah Joe pleaded guilty in federal Magistrate Court in Albuquerque to a criminal information charging him with second-degree murder, according to court documents.

According to the plea deal, Joe admitted killed Brett Micah Morgan by stabbing him 10 times in the chest and neck on Jan. 3, 2019.

The plea deal, signed off on by federal prosecutor David Cowen, states Joe would only receive a 15-year sentence, although any time spent on supervised release after serving a prison sentence would be up to the sentencing judge.

According to the minutes from the plea hearing, Magistrate Judge Kirtan Khalsa accepted the plea but deferred final acceptance to the “final disposition hearing” in front of a district court judge.

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Zachariah Stanley Joe: Brett Micah Morgan — 1-3-2019

 

Summary

Zachariah Joe first attacked Brett Micah Morgan after visiting with him and another man at a house in Shiprock. After being tackled to the ground, he locked Morgan and the other man, only identified in court documents as B.M., out of the house. He then found a kitchen knife and stabbed Morgan 10 times in the chest and neck, killing him, according to court records.

Joe pleaded guilty on Oct. 31, 2019 to a single charge of second-degree murder, according to court records.

The binding plea deal states he will receive a sentence of 15 years. However, the magistrate judge in the case has deferred acceptance of the plea agreement until sentencing by a district court judge.

No more hearings have been set in the case.

The incident

Shiprock. Photo by Bowie Snodgrass/Flickr

On Jan. 3, 2019, Zachariah Stanley Joe, 28, showed up at a house where Brett Micah Morgan, 32, and another man, identified by the initials B.M., were hanging out. Joe had just been fired from Burger King in Shiprock, Federal Bureau of Investigations Agent Lance Roundy wrote in an affidavit for a criminal complaint for the arrest of Joe.

Roundy referred to Morgan in court documents initially as “B.M.M.,” then by “John Doe.” The other identifiers Roundy included were Morgan’s year of birth, 1986, and that he was a Navajo Nation tribal member, as is Joe.

Although Roundy only identified Morgan as “B.M.M.” in court documents, he was identified in his obituary in the Farmington Daily Times. In additional to the correct initials, his obituary states he was born in 1986 and he died on Jan. 3, 2019, all details that match with Roundy’s affidavit. The obituary has been archived here via the Internet Archive and here as a PDF.

Roundy wrote someone interviewed B.M., who said Joe had been texting with Morgan while Morgan and B.M. drank at a Shiprock house. During the evening, Joe texted Morgan that he left work, at Burger King, and wanted to come over.

When Joe showed up, he was drunk and upset about being fired, Roundy wrote.

“Joe continued his tirade about losing his job throughout the evening and at one point, JOE violently struck John Doe in the face with the back of his hand, sending John Doe back towards the wood burning stove,” Roundy wrote, citing the interview with B.M.

Joe tried to attack the prone victim but B.M. punched Joe several times in the head and wrestled him to the ground long enough for Morgan and B.M. to get of the house. Joe locked the door from the inside. Morgan and B.M. could hear him searching through kitchen drawers and cabinets in a “violent” manner, Roundy wrote.

“B.M. then became upset feeling that his home was being invaded, and subsequently ran to the known residence of JOE and broke a window,” Roundy wrote. “B.M. then returned to his residence approximately five minutes later and found John Doe on the ground just outside the door bleeding.”

Joe was standing over Morgan. At some point two other people, identified as “D.T.” and “V.B.” arrived and drove Morgan to the hospital. Navajo police then arrested B.M. for breaking Joe’s window.

Roundy wrote that the Office of the Medical Investigator found that Morgan suffered from 10 “puncture and/or laceration wounds.” He was pronounced dead at the Northern Navajo Medical Center.

Roundy wrote that someone interviewed D.T., who said that he arrived at the house with V.B. and saw Joe kicking Morgan on the ground, outside the house. D.T. got out of the car and pushed Joe back from Morgan, saw he was unresponsive and heard Joe say that Morgan “was stabbed.”

D.T. then kept Joe at a distance and tried to get Morgan to his feet but realized he was bleeding, put him in a car and drove him to the hospital, he wrote.

D.T., who also lived at the house, later realized a kitchen knife was missing from a drawer, Roundy wrote.

V.B. said during an interview that when she arrived with D.T., she did not notice anything in Joe’s hands.

In the plea deal, Joe attested that he initially hit Morgan. B.M. threw Joe down, but eventually Joe locked them out of the house.

“I located a knife in the residence and armed myself with it,” the plea deal states. “A short time later, I exited the residence and confronted John Doe. I started a fight with John Doe and I stabbed John Doe with the knife approximately 10 times in his chest, side and neck.”

In the plea, he admitted that his stabbing caused Morgan’s death.

“While I stabbed John Doe, he begged for me to stop, but I did not,” the plea deal states. “In doing so, I acted with callous and wanton disregard for human life.”

The U.S. Attorney’s Office for New Mexico only published a press release on the case after Joe pleaded guilty and did not publish one after he was arrested.

The Farmington Daily Times first broke the story on January 14, 2019. Joe was charged on Jan. 4.

Below is the affidavit for a criminal complaint filed by Roundy.

Autopsy report

According to the autopsy report by pathologist Matthew Cain, Morgan has 10 “sharp force injuries” to the head and torso.

“Several stab wounds to the torso injured ribs, lungs, liver, and heart – lethal injuries,” Cain wrote. “A stab wound of the neck injured soft tissue and neck muscle but the spinal cord was uninvolved.”

Two of the stab wounds “injured” the small bowel and Morgan also suffered from blunt trauma, including abrasions, skin tears and bruises in the face, torso and his arms and legs. He died from his stab wounds.

Plea and possible sentence

On Oct. 31, 2019, Joe pleaded guilty to second-degree murder, before he was indicted by a grand jury. He previously waived his right to a preliminary hearing, on Jan. 9.

Magistrate Judge Kirtan Khalsa deferred acceptance of the plea agreement, according to the plea hearing minutes for the Oct. 31 hearing

The case had been continued multiple times because the prosecution and Joe’s defense attorney, Melissa Morris, were trying to reach a plea in “pre-indictment negotiations,” according to the docket and an Aug. 16 motion to continue the grand jury presentment. The plea was also signed by federal prosecutor David Cowen.

The plea agreement states Joe will receive a sentence of 15 years, although the sentencing judge can decide how much, if any, time Joe should spend on supervised release after serving his sentence. She can also levy a fine.

According to the plea, the possible maximum sentence for second-degree murder is life imprisonment.

The plea agreement states the 15-year sentence considers Joe’s acceptance of responsibility and that 15 years is the “appropriate disposition.”

In the plea agreement, Joe attested that he locked Morgan and B.M. out of the house, he found a knife and then confronted Morgan.

“I started a fight with John Doe and I stabbed John Doe with the knife approximately 10 times in his chest, side and neck. These stab wounds caused John Doe’s death. While I stabbed John Doe, he begged for me to stop, but I did not. In doing so, I acted with callous and wanton disregard for human life.”

Sentencing date set

Over a year after he pleaded guilty to second-degree murder, Joe will be sentenced to 15 years in prison during a virtual hearing at 3 p.m., Jan. 14, 2021 in the Vermejo courtroom in Albuquerque by District Judge James Browning.

Browning’s only discretion will be in how long Morgan will be on supervised release after serving his prison sentence. Magistrate Judge Kirtan Khalsa initially accepted the plea in October 2019.

Sentencing memorandums

Cowen and Morris both submitted sentencing memorandums imploring Browning to accept the binding plea deal, which mandates a sentence of 15 years for Joe.

Cowen wrote in his sentencing memorandum that Morgan was Joe’s close friend, and cousin, and that his death was “completely avoidable,” although he never specifies how it was avoidable. At the onset of the case, he worked with Morris to “investigate what took place with the goal of working towards a reasonable outcome.”

Cowen wrote that the sentencing guidelines for Joe put his sentence much higher, at just under 20 to to 24 years, but the decrease in sentence will avoid a trial. He wrote:

The proposed plea agreement avoids forcing the victim’s family, who is also Defendant’s extended family, to testify about the facts outlined above. One of the victim’s family members voiced an opinion that the family did not agree with the stipulated 15-year sentence, PSR ¶ 102, but in finalizing the plea agreement the government received support to resolve the case with this proposed 15-year sentence from the victim’s mother and stepfather. This support naturally came with emotion and a realization that no term of imprisonment would bring the victim back to the family.

The plea and 15-year sentence will allow the victim’s family “an opportunity to reconnect with the Defendant’s side of the family,” Cowen wrote.

Joe’s familial history was a childhood of physical abuse perpetrated by his alcoholic father, he wrote.

“According to Defendant’s mother, he unfortunately inherited his father’s tendency to become angry when he drinks alcohol,” Cowen wrote.

Joe had a history of misdemeanor convictions from age 18 to 21, which appear to be two drunk driving arrests and a charge of assault on an officer. He was never convicted of a felony but the convictions gave him a criminal history category of IV, he wrote.

Morris wrote in her sentencing memorandum for Joe that he has been drinking since he was 13 and when he drinks, “his personality changes and he sometimes does things that he would not do otherwise.”

Although his family is “saddened and confused by his actions,” they are still supportive of him. Joe never intended to kill his cousin and does not know how the events leading up to his brutal stabbing resulted in it, she wrote.

“Mr. Joe respectfully submits that this offense, like every other criminal offense he committed in the past, is the product of the disease of alcoholism, which in turn may be the product of his traumatic childhood experiences and his family history of alcoholism,” Morris wrote.

Morris submitted a packet of seven letters on Joe’s behalf, dated around December 2019.

  • Joe’s maternal aunt, Fremina Funmaker, submitted a letter on behalf of Joe and asked that the judge make a decision that “will allow him to seek mental well-being and self-development through sentencing.”
  • Aunt Tiva Esplain wrote that Joe is not a violent person and he has made large and small mistakes in the past and that alcohol caused him to stab his cousin 10 times.
  • Cousin Jerilyn Frank wrote that Joe is one of the “funny guys” and has a contagious laugh.
  • Joe’s mother, Miranda Begay, wrote that Joe and Morgan were “two peas in a pod” and there was not a day that went by when they had not communicated with each other. Without access to alcohol, Morgan would have never died.

Sentenced

On Jan. 14, 2021, Browning sentenced Joe to 15 years, per the plea agreement, followed by three years supervised release. He also ordered Joe pay Morgan’s family $6,546 in restitution.

See all the documents on Google Drive or Document Cloud view the case and documents on Court Listener.

Past stories

Zachariah Joe sentenced to 15 years for stabbing death of cousin, per binding plea

Sentencing date set for Zachariah Joe in stabbing death a year after guilty plea

Shiprock man pleads guilty to second-degree murder for killing fellow Navajo Nation man

Harrison Davis: Unidentified child — 7-1-2018

 

Summary

On July 1, 2018, Harrison Davis allegedly drunkenly crashed his car, which lead to the death of a child, although when the child died is not clear. On Nov. 25, 2019, a federal grand jury indicted him on a charge of child endangerment resulting in death, according to court records. His case is pending.

Incident

Gallup. Photo by Wolfgang Staudt/Flickr

According to the indictment, Davis is a Native American who was allegedly driving while intoxicated with a boy, age unlisted, and that driving while drunk caused the boy’s death. The crash happened on July 1, 2018.

It is not clear from court documents if the boy died immediately following the crash or later on.

According to a motion to continue filed on Jan. 6, 2020, by public defender Sylvia Baiz, the crash happened “in a remote area near Gallup.”

Case is pending

The grand jury indicted Harrison Davis on the single count on Nov. 25, 2019, although the case was not entered into the federal court system until Dec. 3, 2019. He was arrested a week later, on Dec. 11, 2019, by Federal Bureau of Investigations Agent Brad Simons, according to an arrest warrant.

Davis was initially ordered detained on Dec. 12, 2019, in federal court in Albuquerque following a request by prosecutor Frederick Mendenhall, according to a minute sheet.

Davis was arraigned a day later on Dec. 13, 2019, pleaded not guilty to the charge. A different federal prosecutor, David Cowen, did not object to the recommendations of the pretrial services officer and the judge adopted them, according to court minutes.

The minutes sheet does not list what those conditions are. The order releasing him states he can only travel in New Mexico, he can talk to his family but not about the case, he may not use alcohol and he must participate in any outpatient programs ordered by pretrial services. Federal District Court Judge Karen Molzen ordered him released to the custody of his wife, Juanita Davis, and allowed to live in their home near Gallup, according to a minute sheet.

According to the court docket, the case was continued twice, once in January and once in March, and is now set for a tentative trial of June 8, 2020, on the trailing docket.

Davis is being federally charged with a state crime, which is a first-degree felony in New Mexico law.

According to the federal statute, if found guilty, Davis would face the same penalties as he would in New Mexico.

See the case documents on Google Drive or Document Cloud.

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

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; binding plea agreement
  • Sentence: 1 year, 3 months (15 months)
  • Sentence range: 15 to 21 months, per plea deal
  • Date of incident: July 30, 2015
  • Agency: FBI
  • Location: Counselor, Navajo Nation, San Juan County
  • District case number: 15-cr-03051
  • Prosecutor: David Adams
  • Plea judge (magistrate): Karen Molzen
  • Sentencing judge (district): James Browning

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 binding 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.

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).

Federal prosecutor David Adams proffered that binding plea deal and federal Magistrate Judge Karen Molzen initially accepted it although it was up to Browning to determine the final sentence.

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, Adams requested Browning sentence Sam to the maximum, he wrote in a sentencing memorandum.

“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.”

Browning gave him the minimum sentence: 15 months followed by three years of supervised probation, according to the sentencing minutes.

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