To’Hajilee man, Joshua Gutierrez, sentenced to 12 years per plea deal for killing Llewyn Platero

• Judge Martha Vazquez sentenced Joshua Gutierrez to 12 years, per a binding plea deal
• Gutierrez shot Llewyn Platero in the chest, killing him
• Prosecutor Allison Jaros offered the 12-year plea deal for voluntary manslaughter

See past stories or the case write-up

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Joshua Gutierrez was sentenced to 12 years for for fatally shooting Llewyn Platero in 2020, per a binding plea deal.

District Judge Martha Vazquez sentenced Gutierrez, 22, of To’Hajilee on April 7, 2021, after accepting to be bound by the terms of his plea deal, which gave him a 12-year sentence.

Vazquez had the final discretion of whether to accept or reject the plea agreement proffered by prosecutor Allison Jaros. Gutierrez originally pleaded guilty on Oct. 15, 2020, in front of Magistrate Judge Paul Briones who accepted Gutierrez’s guilty plea to a criminal information charging him with voluntary manslaughter and discharging a firearm in the course of a crime. The firearm charge mandates a 10-year sentence.

He received just two years for killing Platero, 36 and the remaining 10 years on his sentence came from the firearm charge.

Gutierrez apologized to Platero’s family during the hearing and introduced his own family members. Platero’s mother, Jackie Platero, addressed the judge, according to the sentencing minutes. The minutes do not detail what anyone said at the hearing.

In a sentencing memorandum, Jaros justified the binding plea deal’s 12-year sentence, even though it was made over the objections of Jackie Platero, who reportedly told Jaros she wanted Gutierrez to serve a life sentence.

“At the time of the change of plea, she expressed that she was not happy with the plea agreement, which she viewed as too lenient,” Jaros wrote.

Jaros justified the 12-year sentence with Gutierrez’s self-defense claims and the evidence.

“The proposed plea agreement holds Defendant accountable for the death of John Doe and the terrorizing of John Doe’s relatives by requiring Defendant to serve a significant prison sentence,” Jaros wrote.

Platero leaves behind four children.

The killing of Llewyn Platero

On March 29, 200, Gutierrez was spending the night at the house where his girlfriend, identified in court records as C.P., (YOB: 1987) and her father, L.P., lived. Platero was C.P.’s ex-boyfriend and the father of her child, Jaros wrote in the sentencing memorandum.

Gutierrez as at least partially motivated by “bad blood” between himself and Platero because of Platero’s past relationship with Gutierrez’s new girlfriend, Jaros wrote.

The night Gutierrez shot Platero, Platero went to L.P.’s house as part of a group who wanted to hang out with him, Jaros wrote. The group included Platero’s brother, Michael Kelewood, referred to in court documents as “M.K.,” Kelewood’s girlfriend and Platero’s cousin, referred to as “J.L.” J.L.’s age is not given but he is a teenager.

“The group arrived at L.P.’s house in the early morning hours of March 29, 2020 after a night out,” Jaros wrote. “L.P. invited the group into his room to drink, smoke, and hang out.”

At some point, Platero and Kelewood started arguing and wrestling in the father’s room. C.P. then ordered them to leave and they started walking down the hallway, she wrote.

“Almost immediately after leaving the room, John Doe ran into Defendant who had armed himself with a gun and come to the room to challenge the group,” Jaros wrote.

Most witnesses agreed that Platero made an aggressive movement toward Gutierrez. Gutierrez told police that Platero swung at him and grazed his face, panicked and shot Platero. C.P. told police that Platero swung at Gutierrez as he was walking down the hallway, Gutierrez got mad and shot Platero, Jaros wrote.

Cousin J.L. gave “varying” accounts, including one immediately after Platero’s death, that Platero shoved Gutierrez prior to being shot. Platero died in J.L.’s lap, she wrote.

“In a later statement, after the stress of the moment had passed, J.L. indicated he did not recall seeing any physical altercation between John Doe and Defendant before the shooting,” Jaros wrote.

Federal Bureau of Investigation Agent Dibiassi Robinson wrote in an affidavit for a criminal complaint that he spoke to J.L. at the Route 66 Casino, where Platero was taken by minivan to wait for an ambulance. Kelewood drove while J.L. applied pressure on Platero’s wound.

“JL indicated that as they approached the kitchen GUTIERREZ raised a handgun up, in his right hand, and fired one shot into the chest of DOE,” Robinson wrote. “JL made no mention of an assault or attempted assault by Doe towards GUTIERREZ. While attempting to provide aid to DOE, JL explained that GUTIERREZ told him and MK to get out of the residence ‘or I’ll shoot you too!’ Gutierrez pointed the firearm at the two as he spoke those words.”

According to the autopsy report, Platero died from a single gunshot wound. The bullet went through his heart and lungs, causing a “large amount” of bleeding in the chest cavity.

Past stabbing

The “bad blood” between Platero and Gutierrez was actually a stabbing.

Crownpoint Police Officer James Dan Jr. wrote in a police report he was called to the site of a domestic and found Gutierrez on the side of the road, clutched over in pain. After he was taken to the hospital, he talked to a woman identified as J.P., who told him she was in her house with her grandchildren when Gutierrez started banging and kicking on the door, saying he “was gonna kill all of us.”

A.L., who was working on his jewelry, said he heard someone banging on the front door. Gutierrez then broke the screen door and A.L. told the officer “I then went after him to stop him.”

Gutierrez was charged for criminal damage and the officer did not write if anyone admitted to stabbing him.

Jaros wrote that the shooting was an outgrowth of that bad blood. It is not clear from the police reports what role, if any, Platero had in the prior stabbing.

“Six months prior to the shooting, Defendant went to John Doe’s house and threatened John Doe and his family with a large metal pipe that was made to look like a firearm,” Jaros wrote.

Pattern of improper sealing

According to the court records, Guteirrez’s attorney, Sylvia Baiz, a federal public defender, appears to have improperly placed her sentencing memorandum under seal. The document does not appear on the federal court docket but is mentioned in other court records.

Improperly sealed documents appear to be a problem in New Mexico’s federal court, as outlined by Jeff Proctor, writing in New Mexico In Depth. He found a pattern and practice by prosecutors and public defenders to improperly seal documents in federal criminal cases, contrary to local and federal rules on sealing procedures. Baiz is a public defender.

Who was Llewyn Jose Platero?

Llewyn Platero, 36, of To’hajilee and the Pueblo of Nambe, was a family man who loved his five children. He was an artist like his father.

Photo of Llewyn Platero sitting in a booth.
Llewyn Platero

“Llewyn was such a loving and selfless man, with a big personality and an even bigger voice. Family meant everything to Llewyn, and he was the protector…the linchpin,” according to his obituary.

Family was extremely important to Platero and he was his family’s protector. He had four children, Joshua Platero, Llewyn Platero Jr., Corey Platero and Zahmarra Platero, and is also survived by his partner Candace Ruben.

“His laughter was contagious and his drive and motivation to provide for his family was inspiring. He loved to joke around, and enjoyed cooking, fishing, and drawing,” according to his obituary.

Like his father who preceded him in death, Ernest Mirabal, Llewyn Platero was a great artist.

“He always had the best advice for any situation. No matter the time or circumstance, he was always there to guide his siblings,” according to his obituary.

He is also survived by his mother, Jackie Platero, sisters Miranda Simmons, Michelle Kelewood, Nakiva Mirabal, Paige Loretto, Khiah Long, Khaleah Long, and Kharalius Long and his brothers, Michael Kelewood, Khiry Kelewood, Natanni Mirabal, and Austin Long III.

“Everyone looked up to him because he motivated everyone he came in contact with; he made everyone want to be better,” according to his obituary.

See the case documents on Google Drive or Document Cloud

Continue reading “To’Hajilee man, Joshua Gutierrez, sentenced to 12 years per plea deal for killing Llewyn Platero”

Joshua Gutierrez pleads to voluntary manslaughter for To’Hajiilee shooting

  • Joshua Gutierrez  pleaded guilty ahead of a grand jury indictment
  • The plea sets his sentence at 12 years, but final acceptance is at the discretion of the sentencing judge
  • He pleaded guilty to charges of voluntary manslaughter and discharging a firearm for killing Llewyn Platero, 36

See new and past stories or the case write-up

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jaros signed the plea deal.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Wheeler Cowperthwaite contributed to this report.

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

Joshua Gutierrez: Llewyn Platero — 3-29-2020

 

Summary

Joshua Gutierrez, 21, of To’Hajiilee, allegedly shot and killed Llewyn Platero, 36, on March 29, 2020, at a house on the To’Hajiilee reservation. Although he claimed the man “assaulted him,” the one eye witness did not make the same assertion, according to court documents.

On Oct. 15, 2020, he pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter. The plea deal sets his sentence at 12 years. Sentencing has not been set.

The incident

Photo of mesas
To’Hajiilee by Joel/Flickr. CC BY-NC

Federal Bureau of Investigation Agent Dibiassi Robinson was called out to the Route 66 Casino at 5:29 a.m., March 29, 2020, for a possible homicide, although a Navajo Nation criminal investigator told him the alleged killing took place on the To’Hajiilee reservation.

Robinson wrote in an affidavit for a criminal complaint that he spoke to two witnesses at the casino.

When Gutierrez spoke to investigators, he alleged he was attacked by Llewyn Platero, 36, he wrote. Platero is not identified in court records and referred to as Doe or John Doe.

Witness JL, at the casino, told investigators that he was at an acquaintance’s house when Platero and another man, identified as MK, started arguing, then fighting. JL and Gutierrez went to school together, Robinson wrote.

“Doe and MK tussled for a few minutes before CP (year of birth 1987) ordered the group to leave the residence,” Robinson wrote. “CP is the current girlfriend of GUTIERREZ.”

Platero and MK stopped briefly, then started “tussling” and being loud again, before Platero and JL headed toward the front door, he wrote.

“JL indicated that as they approached the kitchen GUTIERREZ raised a handgun up, in his right hand, and fired one shot into the chest of DOE,” Robinson wrote. “JL made no mention of an assault or attempted assault by Doe towards GUTIERREZ. While attempting to provide aid to DOE, JL explained that GUTIERREZ told him and MK to get out of the residence ‘or I’ll shoot you too!’ Gutierrez pointed the firearm at the two as he spoke those words.”

Although Robinson wrote that JL “made no mention of an assault or attempted assault by Doe,” he did not write if JL was asked about an alleged assault.

JL and MK placed pressure on the wound, loaded Platero into a car and drove toward Albuquerque. While on the way, JL called 911 while MK drove, he wrote.

They stopped at the Route 66 Casino, Robinson wrote.

MK, at the casino, told investigators that he started arguing and fighting with Doe while at an acquaintance’s house, then CP, Gutierrez’s girlfriend, ordered them to leave, he wrote.

“MK stated DOE left the room and a few seconds later he heard a pop,” Robinson wrote. “MK exited the room and went to the kitchen of the residence where he saw DOE laying on the floor. MK inquired as to what DOE had done and why GUTIERREZ had to shoot DOE. As MK attempted to provide aid to DOE, GUTIERREZ ordered the group to leave the residence ‘or I’ll shoot you too!’ Gutierrez pointed the firearm at the two as he spoke those words. JL informed MK ‘he’ll do it!'”

Robinson alleged Gutierrez “fled” the house, on foot. He was later found at his own house, 1 1/2 miles away.

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

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

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

On March 31, 2020, Gutierrez appeared in Federal District Court for his initial appearance and was ordered held without bail.

The autopsy

According to the autopsy report, Platero died from a single gunshot wound. The bullet went through his heart and lungs, causing a “large amount” of bleeding in the chest cavity.

Pathologists Karen Zeigler, a fellow, and Ross Zumwalt, the medical investigator, wrote in the report that there was no soot or gunpowder stippling near the wound or on the clothing and that the firing range is “indeterminate.”

The bullet was recovered from the right back.

“The overall trajectory was front to back, left to right and slightly downward,” they wrote.

Secret records

In a June 24, 2020 unopposed motion for a protective order, federal prosecutor Allison Jaros requested public records, including the autopsy report, be kept secret and be the subject of a strict protective order.

Jaros wrote in the motion that the the agreed-to order would prevent defense attorney Sylvia Baiz from showing the public autopsy report to anyone.

In New Mexico, autopsy reports are public records.

Judge Kirtan Khalsa granted the protective order, despite the fact that autopsy reports are public records.

Improperly sealed

According to the court records, Guteirrez’s attorney, Sylvia Baiz, a federal public defender, appears to have improperly placed her sentencing memorandum under seal. The document does not appear on the federal court docket but is mentioned in other court records.

Improperly sealed documents appear to be a problem in New Mexico’s federal court, as outlined by Jeff Proctor, writing in New Mexico In Depth. He found a pattern and practice by prosecutors and public defenders to improperly seal documents in federal criminal cases, contrary to local and federal rules on sealing procedures. Baiz is a public defender.

Plea

Gutierrez pleaded guilty Thursday, Oct. 15, 2020, in federal court to voluntary manslaughter and discharging a firearm for fatally shooting another man in an early-morning incident on March 29, 2020, on the reservation. He appeared via Zoom from a Cibola County detention center before Magistrate Judge Paul Briones who accepted Gutierrez’s guilty plea to a criminal information and set sentencing before a District Court judge at an undetermined time.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Joshua Gutierrez sentenced for voluntary manslaughter

District Judge Martha Vazquez sentenced Gutierrez on April 7, 2021, after accepting to be bound by the terms of his plea deal, which gave him a 12-year sentence.

Vazquez had the final discretion of whether to accept or reject the plea agreement proffered by Jaros. Gutierrez originally pleaded guilty on Oct. 15, 2020, to a criminal information charging him with voluntary manslaughter and discharging a firearm in the course of a crime. The firearm charge mandates a 10-year sentence.

He received just two years for killing Platero, 36 and the remaining 10 years on his sentence came from the firearm charge.

Gutierrez apologized to Platero’s family during the hearing and introduced his own family members. Platero’s mother, Jackie Platero, addressed the judge, according to the sentencing minutes. The minutes do not detail what anyone said at the hearing.

In a sentencing memorandum, Jaros justified the binding plea deal’s 12-year sentence, even though it was made over the objections of Jackie Platero, who reportedly told Jaros she wanted Gutierrez to serve a life sentence.

“At the time of the change of plea, she expressed that she was not happy with the plea agreement, which she viewed as too lenient,” Jaros wrote.

Jaros justified the 12-year sentence with Gutierrez’s self-defense claims and the evidence.

“The proposed plea agreement holds Defendant accountable for the death of John Doe and the terrorizing of John Doe’s relatives by requiring Defendant to serve a significant prison sentence,” Jaros wrote.

Who was Llewyn Jose Platero?

Llewyn Platero, 36, of To’hajilee and the Pueblo of Nambe, was a family man who loved his five children and was an artist like his father.

Photo of Llewyn Platero sitting in a booth.
Llewyn Platero

“Llewyn was such a loving and selfless man, with a big personality and an even bigger voice. Family meant everything to Llewyn, and he was the protector…the linchpin,” according to his obituary.

Family was extremely important to Platero and he was his family’s protector. He had four children, Joshua Platero, Llewyn Platero Jr., Corey Platero and Zahmarra Platero, and is also survived by his partner Candace Ruben.

“His laughter was contagious and his drive and motivation to provide for his family was inspiring. He loved to joke around, and enjoyed cooking, fishing, and drawing,” according to his obituary.

Like his father who preceded him in death, Ernest Mirabal, Llewyn Platero was a great artist.

“He always had the best advice for any situation. No matter the time or circumstance, he was always there to guide his siblings,” according to his obituary.

He is also survived by his mother, Jackie Platero, sisters Miranda Simmons, Michelle Kelewood, Nakiva Mirabal, Paige Loretto, Khiah Long, Khaleah Long, and Kharalius Long and his brothers, Michael Kelewood, Khiry Kelewood, Natanni Mirabal, and Austin Long III.

“Everyone looked up to him because he motivated everyone he came in contact with; he made everyone want to be better,” according to his obituary.

See the case documents on Google Drive or Document Cloud

Andrew Martinez contributed to this report

See past stories on this case

Joshua Gutierrez pleads to voluntary manslaughter for To’Hajiilee shooting

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

John Lodgepole: 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 he used to bash in the back of Warren’s head, 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.

Sentenced to seven years

District Judge Kea Riggs sentenced Lodgepole, 22, to seven years in prison for killing Michealene Warren, 43, of Nenahnezad, during a virtual hearing on Tuesday, Aug. 24, 2021. Lodgepole will spend an additional three years on supervised probation after he is released from prison.

Ruiz-Velez asked for seven years in prison while, according to the minutes, Lodgepole’s attorney, Melissa Morris, asked for six years.

According to the sentencing minutes, Lodgepole addressed the judge, as did Warren’s sister, Miracle Yellowman. What she said is not memorialized in the minutes. His entire sentencing hearing took just 27 minutes. Lodgepole did not physically appear for his hearing.

A restitution hearing is set for 9:30 a.m., Nov. 16, 2021 in Albuquerque.

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Past stories

John Lodgepole sentenced to 7 years for brutal beating death of Michaelene Warren

Prosecutor asks for seven years for John Lodgepole in brutal beating death of Michaelene Warren

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