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, 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”

Maroquez Clah receives 3-year sentence for fatal crash in San Juan County

  • Judge Kea Riggs sentenced Maroquez Clah to just over 3 years for the fatal DWI crash
  • Clah pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter without a plea deal

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

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Maroquez Clah, 28, of Red Rock, Ariz., received a sentence just over three years for killing Darrell Chavez, 22, in a 2019 drunk driving crash near Mitten Rock, after he pleaded guilty without a plea deal to involuntary manslaughter.

District Judge Kea Riggs ordered Clah,  serve three years on supervised release after he is released from prison when she sentenced him on Dec. 15, 2020, according to minutes from the hearing. He must also pay $4,500 in restitution.

Mitten Rock, off of Navajo Route 13 (Indian Services Route 13), New Mexico. Photo by James St. John/Flickr. CC-BY

Chavez’s father, Kinsey Chavez, addressed the judge through a Navajo interpreter, but what he said is not memorialized in the minutes. Clah also made a statement to the judge.

Riggs gave him two days to turn himself in to begin serving his sentence, according to the minutes.

What sentence Clah’s attorney, Emily Carey, argued for, or what sentence federal prosecutor Novaline Wilson asked for, is unknown as the minutes do not memorialize either of their stances.

No sentencing memorandums appear in the court docket either, although the docket is missing eight entries between when Clah pleaded guilty (entry 37) and the entry of judgement (entry 52)in the case.

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.

Clah had been on pre-trial release pending sentencing in Red Rock, Ariz., where he was taking care of his ailing parents during the pandemic. Magistrate Judge Paul Briones initially ordered Clah stay at a halfway house, despite his need for surgery, medical treatments and his ailing parents needing help. Wilson argued that Clah should have been held without bail indefinitely, over the objections of the probation officer assigned to the case.. Carey appealed Briones’ order to Riggs, who ordered him released on April 20, 2020.

A federal grand jury indicted Clah on the involuntary manslaughter charge on Nov. 25, 2019. It was not entered into the federal court system until Dec. 3, 2019. Clah was not arrested until Feb. 14, 2020. His arrest warrant return was not entered into the online court system.

The crash

FBI Agent Lancy Roundy wrote in a search warrant filed for Clah’s truck on Sept. 4, 2019, that Clah told federal investigators, while in the hospital, he had been drinking alcohol throughout the day prior to driving from Farmington to his home in Red Valley, Arizona. Chavez is referred to as “John Doe” in court records.

“Clah recalled John Doe being a passenger of his vehicle at some point during the drive,” Roundy wrote. “Clah admitted to drinking vodka approximately six hours prior to driving his vehicle home and remembered losing control of the vehicle while driving approximately 70 miles per hour before the vehicle rolled several times.”

Roundy wrote that, according to Clah’s hospital records from his treatment after the crash, his blood-alcohol content was 0.258, over three times the legal limit of 0.08.

According to Chavez’s autopsy report, he was not wearing a seatbelt and was ejected from the truck during the crash.

Continue reading “Maroquez Clah receives 3-year sentence for fatal crash in San Juan County”

Allister Quintana sentencing moved to February 2021 in Dulce torture case

• A judge moved Allister Quintana‘s sentencing to Feb. 1, 2021
• The defense’s psychological evaluation should be complete by mid-November
• A defense sentencing memorandum is due by Dec. 15

See the case write-up or previous stories on this case

DULCE, N.M. — A judge moved Allister Quintana’s sentencing to February after he pleaded guilty in January 2020 to second-degree murder for torturing his cousin at his Dulce home and leaving him to die in a locked closet.

Mug of Allister Quintana
Allister Quintana

Quintana’s lawyer, Ray Twohig, wrote in a Nov. 11, 2020 motion to extend the deadlines in the case that he was still missing an evaluation from Christine Johnson, a forensic psychologist who has been unable to personally meet with Quintana at the McKinley County Detention Center, where he is being held.

Johnson’s trouble completing an evaluation of Quintana have been the subject of multiple motions to push off sentencing.

The report was supposed to be completed by Nov. 16, 2020. Twohig should have his sentencing memorandum completed by Dec. 15, 2020, which gives prosecutors until Dec. 29, 2020 to respond.

Although Twohig wrote that Johnson will have the evaluation done by November, she previously “assured” him it would be done by Oct. 14, 2020, according to a previous motion to extend deadlines.

District Court Judge William Johnson granted the extension and set sentencing for 10 a.m., Feb. 1, 2021. Sentencing had previously been set for Jan. 5, 2021. Johnson accepted Twohig’s suggested deadlines for his memorandum and the prosecution’s response.

Prosecutor Joseph Spindle previously asked for a life sentence for Quintana in his own sentencing memorandum, on April 2, 2020.

Quintana, 26, pleaded guilty to a criminal information charging him with second-degree murder on Jan. 22, 2020. His codefendant, Andrew Bettelyoun, 25, previously pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit kidnapping a year prior, on Jan. 30, 2019.

Quintana and Bettelyoun admitted to torturing Travis Howland, 28, before binding his hands and feet and leaving him, naked, in a closet to die on Feb. 2, 2018 in Quintana’s house, according to court records.

More details on what prosecutors say happened to Howland are in the case write-up.

Although Bettelyoun was supposed to be sentenced in May 2019, court records do not indicate that he was ever sentenced. In his memorandum seeking a life sentence for Quintana, Spindle wrote that Bettelyoun is, under the current sentencing guidelines, slated to receive a harsher sentence than Quintana even though Quintana committed far more egregious acts.

Continue reading “Allister Quintana sentencing moved to February 2021 in Dulce torture case”

Sentencing date set for Arizona man in fatal DWI crash

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

Update: The sentencing time has been updated to 10:30 a.m.

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — An Arizona man, who pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter for killing his friend in a 2019 drunk driving crash, is set to be sentenced remotely at 10:30 a.m., Dec. 15, 2020.

Mitten Rock, off of Navajo Route 13 (Indian Services Route 13), New Mexico. Photo by James St. John/Flickr

District Judge Kea Riggs is set to sentence Maroquez Clah, 28, of Red Valley, for the DWI crash that killed Darrell Chavez, 22, near Mitten Rock, according to the docket. Clah previously pleaded guilty without a plea agreement in front of Magistrate Judge John Robbenhaar. The maximum sentence for involuntary manslaughter is eight years.

Riggs previously ordered Clah released to his parents’ home in Red Valley, Ariz., after Magistrate Judge Paul Briones refused to release him, despite his medical needs.

The sentencing hearing will be conducted remotely and is assigned to the Bonito courtroom, numbered 540, according to the docket.

A federal grand jury indicted Clah on a charge of involuntary manslaughter on Nov. 25, 2019 for crashing his truck while drunk near Mitten Rock, killing Chavez. He was not arrested until Feb. 14, 2020.

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

See the case documents on Google Drive or Document Cloud

Continue reading “Sentencing date set for Arizona man in fatal DWI crash”

Arizona man pleads to involuntary manslaughter without deal in DWI killing

Maroquez Clah pleaded guilty without a plea deal
• He faces a maximum sentence of eight years for killing Darrel Chavez, 22

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

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Maroquez Clah pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter, Sept. 21, 2020, for killing his friend in a drunk driving crash near Mitten Rock.

Clah, 28, of Red Valley, Ariz., pleaded guilty without a plea agreement and he faces a maximum sentence of eight years for the Aug. 30, 2019 crash that killed Darrell Chavez, 22.

Panoramic photo of Red Valley, Arizona, with no buildings in sight.
Red Valley, about a mile west of the New Mexico state line, 36.5845 -109.0732, Apache County, Arizona, 5/17/2014. Photo by Patrick Alexander/Flickr. CC BY-NC-SA

According to the plea minute sheet, Magistrate Judge John Robbenhaar accepted the plea. Robbenhaar allowed Clah to remain on his current conditions of release. He is living with his parents in Red Valley.

According to a proffer of evidence at trial filed by federal prosecutor Novaline Wilson, Clah acted with “wanton and reckless disregard for human life” when he drove drunk.

No sentencing date has been set.

A grand jury indicted Clah on a charge of involuntary manslaughter on Nov. 25, 2019 for crashing his truck while drunk near Mitten Rock, killing Chavez. He was not arrested until Feb. 14, 2020.  Federal Magistrate Judge Paul Briones released him to a halfway house over the objection of prosecutor Wilson. Briones refused to release him to his home in Red Valley to help his ailing parents amid the coronavirus pandemic. Federal District Court Judge Kea Riggs overruled Briones and ordered him released on April 20, 2020.

Details of the crash

FBI Agent Lancy Roundy wrote in a search warrant filed for Clah’s truck on Sept. 4, 2019, that Clah told federal investigators, while in the hospital, he had been drinking alcohol throughout the day prior to driving from Farmington to his home in Red Valley, Arizona. Chavez is referred to as “John Doe” in court records.

“Clah recalled John Doe being a passenger of his vehicle at some point during the drive,” Roundy wrote. “Clah admitted to drinking vodka approximately six hours prior to driving his vehicle home and remembered losing control of the vehicle while driving approximately 70 miles per hour before the vehicle rolled several times.”

Roundy wrote that, according to Clah’s hospital records from his treatment after the crash, his blood-alcohol content was 0.258, over three times the legal limit of 0.08.

According to Chavez’s autopsy report, he was not wearing a seatbelt and was ejected from the truck during the crash.

Continue reading “Arizona man pleads to involuntary manslaughter without deal in DWI killing”

Sentencing in Dulce torture case moved to October

  • Allister Quintana pleaded guilty to second-degree murder on Jan. 22, 2020
  • The in-person sentencing has been postponed to October because of the coronavirus pandemic

See the case write-up or previous stories on this case

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The Dulce man who pleaded guilty to torturing his cousin, binding him and locking him in a closet to die will not be sentenced until Oct. 23 at the earliest as the coronavirus pandemic has closed courtrooms and jails to visitors, including attorneys and psychologists.

Mug of Allister Quintana
Allister Quintana

Federal District Judge William Johnson set Allister Quintana’s sentencing hearing for 10 a.m., Oct. 23 in Albuquerque.

Quintana, 26, had been set to be sentenced on June 22, according to minutes of a May 26 hearing. Prosecutor Joseph Spindle is seeking a life sentence for Quintana.

Quintana pleaded guilty to a criminal information charging him with second-degree murder on Jan. 22, 2020. His codefendant, Andrew Bettelyoun, 25, previously pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit kidnapping a year prior, on Jan. 30, 2019.

Quintana and Bettelyoun admitted to torturing Travis Howland, 28, before binding his hands and feet and leaving him, naked, in a closet to die on Feb. 2, 2018 in Quintana’s house, according to court records.

During the May 26 hearing, Spindle said sentencing would take 1 1/2 to 2 hours and he planned to call one witness and two “family victims.” Quintana’s attorney, Ray Twohig, said he wanted to having the hearing moved because of issues related to the pandemic. It was then moved from June 22 to July 27. On June 1, the hearing was again moved, this time to Aug. 21. On July 13, it was moved again to Oct. 23. It is supposed to be in person but the public and media should have access via live streaming, according to the court docket.

In his third motion to reschedule sentencing, filed July 10, Twohig wrote that he “obtained the assistance” of a forensic psychologist, Christine Johnson, to address mental health issues to be considered when Quintana is sentenced.

Quintana is being held at the McKinley County Detention Center and no in-person visits are currently allowed because of the coronavirus pandemic. Twohig needed psychologist Christine Johnson to complete her evaluation because he could complete his own sentencing memorandum but because of visiting restrictions, she was having a hard time, he wrote.

“However, she has been able to arrange Zoom conferences with him,” Twohig wrote. “These are difficult to schedule and conduct, since reception  is uneven and the evaluation process is delayed considerably by the use of this  method. She estimates she will need at least one other Zoom meeting in addition to the three Zoom meetings she has been able to conduct.”

In a sentencing memorandum, Spindle asked for Quintana to be sentenced to life, an upward variance.

No hearing has been set for Bettelyoun and no filings have been made in his case for over a year.

Continue reading “Sentencing in Dulce torture case moved to October”

Simeon Atcitty: Unnamed man — 6-19-2020

 

Summary

On June 19, 2020, in San Juan County, Simeon Atcitty allegedly killed an unnamed man, according to prosecutors. On Sept. 8, 2020, a federal grand jury indicted him on a single charge of second-degree murder. According to the indictment, Atcitty killed the unnamed man with malice aforethought.

Atcitty does not appear to have been previously charged in a lower court with the killing. No other details of the incident are contained in court documents. If a federal search warrant was issued, it appears to still be sealed, based on a review of federal search warrants from that time period.

On Sept. 23, 2020, FBI Agent Lance Roundy arrested Atcitty on the warrant, after it was received on Sept. 12, 2020. On Sept. 29, 2020, federal Magistrate Judge John Robbenhaar ordered Atcitty held without bail during a virtual hearing. The judge’s reasoning is not contained in the minutes.

The case was continued on Oct. 8, 2020, and a trial date was reset for Feb. 1, 2021. No new court dates have been set.

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

View the case documents on Google Drive, Document Cloud or Court Listener.

Contents

Judge finds Jansen Peshlakai a danger to the community and won’t release

• Judge denies Jansen Peshlakai‘s bid for release
• Peshlakai showed no elevated risk from the coronavirus

See the case write-up

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Jansen Peshlakai will continue to be housed in the private Cibola County Correction Center after a federal judge found him to be a danger to the community and that the coronavirus did not pose enough of a specific threat to him.

Shiprock. Photo by Mobilus In Mobili/Flickr

According to minutes from the June 4, 2020 hearing, conducted via Zoom, Peshlakai’s attorney, Edward Bustamante, asked he be released to the third-party custody of his sister in Oklahoma.

Federal prosecutor Allison Jaros provided an update on the status of coronavirus cases in the Cibola County Detention Center and asked Peshlakai remain in jail, according to the minutes.

According to the minutes, U.S. Marshal Deputy G. McCoy “provides information re: COVID-19 cases, status of employee’s health at Cibola and outlines medical treatment defendants receive upon entry/release from center.”

Jaros brought one exhibit, entered onto the record, but it was uploaded to PACER and the minutes do not state what it was.

At the end of the 45-minute hearing, District Judge Judith Herrera ordered Peshlakai continue to be held as a danger to the community, according to the minutes.

“Court finds defendant has not shown there is an elevated risk to him in contracting COVID-19, outlines reasons and denies request for release,” the minutes state. “Ms. Jaros to submit order”

Peshlakai allegedly ran down 20-year-old Dakota Whitehat on July 13, 2018. Whitehat was in a vehicle that stopped because Peshlakai was fighting with his wife on the side of the road and, according to one report, screaming for help, according to court documents. Read more about the case in the write-up.

A grand jury indicted Peshlakai on a charge of second-degree murder three months later, on Oct. 2. 2018.

Peshlakai’s competency to stand trial was an issue from the start of the case and he was found not competent on June 14, 2019, before being rehabilitated and found competent on March 20, 2020, his attorney, Edward Bustamante, wrote in a motion for his release.

Jaros opposed Bustamante’s request.

The Cibola County Correction Center, and the company that runs it, CoreCivic, have come under scrutiny because of its handling of the coronavirus pandemic.

In a March 30 response to the United States Marshals Service, Cibola County Detention Center Warden Luis Rosa Jr. wrote a vague letter that the facility is following proper guidelines and instituting social distancing within the facility.

That comes in stark contrast to reporting by Jeff Proctor at New Mexico In Depth. Proctor wrote that inmates had to sign a waiver before receiving face masks.

According to a May 12 filing by Jaros, two federal inmates have tested positive for the coronavirus. They were transferred from Otero County in early May, 2020.

No further hearings are scheduled.

The Cibola County Correction Center allegedly forced inmates to sign waivers before giving them face masks, according to Jeff Proctor reporting in New Mexico In Depth.

Do you have information about this case? NM Homicide needs your assistance. Please fill out this form or contact us.

See all the documents this case on Google Drive or Document Cloud. View the docket on CourtListener.com.

Continue reading “Judge finds Jansen Peshlakai a danger to the community and won’t release”

Jansen Peshlakai requests release because of the coronavirus after competency determination

See the case write-up

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Jansen Peshlakai is asking a federal judge to release him to a halfway-house pending trial because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Peshlakai allegedly ran down 20-year-old Dakota Whitehat on July 13, 2018. Whitehat was in a vehicle that stopped because Peshlakai was fighting with his wife on the side of the road and, according to one report, screaming for help, according to court documents.

Shiprock Pinnacle. Photo by DiAnn L’Roy/Flickr

A grand jury indicted Peshlakai on a charge of second-degree murder three months later, on Oct. 2. 2018.

Peshlakai’s competency to stand trial was an issue from the start of the case and he was found not competent on June 14, 2019, before being rehabilitated and found competent on March 20, 2020, his attorney, Edward Bustamante, wrote in a motion for his release.

He was then returned to New Mexico on April 17, 2020, and taken to the Cibola County Correctional Center outside Milan, a private jail run by CoreCivic, Bustamante wrote.

Peshlakai previously appealed the initial order that he be held without bail. It was denied. Because of the coronavirus pandemic and Peshlakai being transferred, Bustamante filed the new motion for release on April 20, 2020.

“Jansen Peshlakai is an at risk detainee due to his permanent closed head injury and his course of medications that make him vulnerable to any health threat while detained,” Bustamante wrote.

He asked that his client be released to his daughter, Jennifer Peshlakai, in Oklahoma, or his mother, in Churchrock.

Prosecutor Allison Jaros wrote in a response, dated April 23, 2020, that Bustamante did not argue that his client is no longer a flight risk or a danger to the community and that the pandemic would not make it less likely he would violate court orders and drink or harm others if released from custody.

“Defendant’s mental condition has improved since his incarceration, likely due to his forced sobriety,” Jaros wrote.

According to Peshlakai’s own doctor, he requires “24/7” supervision for safety, food preparation, medication administration and assistance with other basic daily activities, she wrote.

Cibola County Detention Center badge
Cibola County Detention Center badge

“The COVID-19 pandemic simply has no bearing on whether conditions of release can reasonably assure the defendant’s appearance in court and the safety of the community,” Jaros wrote.

She wrote that Peshlakai is also not particularly at risk from the coronavirus, citing a New York case where a man with dementia and a history of strokes and heart attacks was denied pre-trial release during the pandemic.

“It would be pure speculation for the Court to presume that Defendant’s underlying conditions pose a greater risk to his safety than if he was released back into the public, where he could resume drinking,” Jaros wrote.

She wrote that when he was arrested, he also had three outstanding warrants. One was a New Mexico probation violation case, although she did not specify if it was federally issued or a state case, and two for failing to appear in court in Oklahoma.

Continue reading “Jansen Peshlakai requests release because of the coronavirus after competency determination”

Prosecutor asks for life sentence in Dulce torture case

  • Allister Quintana pleaded guilty to second-degree murder on Jan. 22, 2020
  • The prosecutor Joseph Spindle wants Quintana to receive a life sentence because of how heinous his actions were
  • Quintana had Andrew Bettelyoun help torture and bind Travis Howland before leaving him in a closet to die
  • Bettelyoun pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit kidnapping

See the case write-up

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — A federal prosecutor is asking a judge to impose a life sentence on the Dulce man who beat, chopped, stabbed and bound his cousin before locking him in a closet to die of asphyxiation, starvation or dehydration.

Mug of Allister Quintana
Allister Quintana

Allister Quintana, 26, pleaded guilty to a criminal information charging him with second-degree murder on Jan. 22, 2020. His codefendant, Andrew Bettelyoun, 25, previously pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit kidnapping a year prior, on Jan. 30, 2019.

Quintana and Bettelyoun admitted to torturing Travis Howland, 28, before binding his hands and feet and leaving him, naked, in a closet to die on Feb. 2, 2018 in Quintana’s house, according to court records.

Federal prosecutor Joseph Spindle filed a sentencing memorandum/motion for an upward departure in Quintana’s case on April 2, 2020, asking that he receive a life sentence. Spindle wrote he wants six points added to Quintana’s sentencing guideline, to put him at an offense level of 43, where the only suggested sentence is life, regardless of criminal history.

“Defendant’s conduct was unusually heinous, cruel, brutal, and degrading to the victim, warranting the imposition of a six-level upward departure pursuant to U.S.S.G. § 5K2.8,” Spindle wrote.

The extreme conduct guideline Spindle referenced is for “torture of a victim, gratuitous infliction of injury, or prolonging of pain or humiliation.”

Spindle wrote that Quintana’s torture of Howland encompassed three phases.

“He beat him with a flashlight, burned him with a lighter, cut him with a machete, and bound him with a cord,” he wrote. “Doe suffered three types of trauma, blunt, sharp, and compressional.”

Quintana allegedly forced Quintana to sodomize himself with a flashlight and tortured him in three separate rooms before leaving him bound in a closet “where he may have painfully surrounded to starvation, asphyxiation, or dehydration,” Spindle wrote.

The pathologist who performed Howland’s autopsy wrote that the manner of death was homicide but the means was unspecified, according to the autopsy report. None of his injuries were enough to kill him. (Read more about the cause of death here.)

Quintana also allegedly victimized one of Howland’s sisters because she saw his body when responding as a medic, although she did not initially recognize him, Spindle wrote.

What Quintana did to Howland is outlined in greater detail in the case write-up. However, reader discretion is advised because the details are disturbing.

Although Spindle did not write what Quintana’s sentence guideline number was, if it took a full six points to get to 43, the highest number, which carries a suggested sentence of life, his number could have been 37. With no criminal history points, the sentencing guidelines suggest a sentence of 17 to 22 years. With the maximum number of criminal history points, and a guideline of 37, the sentence is 30 years to life.

“Coupled with a criminal history category of I, Defendant’s adjusted guidelines range would be imprisonment for life,” he wrote.

Below is the federal sentencing table, from levels 33 to 43, the highest level.

Federal sentencing guidelines table, levels 33 to 43.
Federal sentencing guidelines table, levels 33 to 43. Prosecutor Joseph Spindle wrote Andrew Bettelyoun’s sentence guidelines is 360 months (30 years) to life. Depending on his criminal history, his level is anywhere from 37, with the highest criminal history rating of V, to 42, with the lowest level of criminal history. Court documents do not say where he lands. Allister Quintana appears to have a level of 37, with no criminal history points.

Quintana also has an “abysmal” criminal history that warranted a higher sentence, Spindle wrote.

Jicarilla Judicial Complex (Ishkoteen)
JJicarilla Apache Nation Ishkoteen Judicial Complex, Dulce, NM. According to federal prosecutors, Allister Quintana had an extensive criminal history, not accounted for in a presentence report. All the cases appear to be tribal. Photo by Bob Nichols/USDA/Flickr.

“In less than ten years, Defendant has been charged nine times,” Spindle wrote. “While none of his previous conduct was even close to the brutality involved in this case, several times his convictions were for violent crimes. At least five of the crimes appeared to victimize women, and at least one involved confinement of the victim in his home.”

It is unclear what alleged crimes Quintana committed, or how many he was convicted of. The only federal case against him is for Howland’s death and state court records only show two cases, both for minor in possession of alcohol, from 2015.

In his presentence report and the calculation of his offense level, he did not receive points for his criminal history, Spindle wrote.

Quintana allegedly wanted Howland to suffer before he did by inflicting pain, humiliation and subjecting his sister to the sight of his decomposing body, Spindle wrote.

Spindle wrote:

“A sentence within the guidelines would not adequately reflect the seriousness of this type of sadistic behavior and would signal to the community that a brutal torture is no different from an isolated shooting. But there is a difference ― a huge difference. Doe’s death was not quick and painless. He died after being beaten, tied up, and sodomized.”

Sentencing “anomaly”

Quintana’s current sentencing guideline appears to place him in the sentencing range of 17 to 22 years, based on a presumed sentencing guideline number of 37 based on court filings.

Bettelyoun faces a sentence range of 30 years to life, Spindle wrote. He did not specify what Bettelyoun’s sentencing guideline number or criminal history.

Quintana being positioned to receive a lower sentence creates a sentencing “anomaly” between them, he wrote.

Spindle wrote:

“By all accounts, Defendant’s conduct was far more egregious than his codefendant, Mr. Bettelyoun’s conduct. However, based upon the application of a cross reference in Mr. Bettelyoun’s case, his applicable guidelines range is imprisonment for 360 months to life. This is a glaring disparity between the codefendants considering that Defendant and Mr. Bettelyoun have similar criminal histories.”

Quintana’s sentencing is set for 2 p.m., June 22 in Albuquerque in the Cimarron courtroom in front of Chief District Judge William Johnson. No hearing has been set for Bettelyoun.

According to a motion reschedule the sentencing hearing by Quintana’s attorney, Ray Twohig, he has hired a forensic psychologist to help him and sentencing should be done in person. However, the coronavirus pandemic has curtailed in-person hearings and, by June, it is possible that hearings can be held in person again.

The case

According to court records, Quintana was allegedly angry because his cousin, Howland, failed to bail him out of jail in late January 2018. During a night of drinking, on Feb. 2, 2018, at Quintana’s house with Bettelyoun and Howland, Quintana allegedly attacked Howland before torturing him, binding him and leaving him in his closet. On Feb. 14, 2018, Howland’s body was found in the closet of Quintana’s house while Quintana was in jail on a tribal domestic case.

In Instagram messages, Quintana allegedly referred to the torture and killing as “batman shit.”

In summary:

Travis Howland

Amanda Martinez, writing for the Rio Grande SUNtalked to Howland’s family about who he was as a person, as well as their reactions to the case.

“He was a guitar player, a graffiti artist, someone who loved metal music and a father,” Martinez wrote.

Howland was goofy, liked to crack jokes and grew up with his sisters in and out of foster care, she wrote.

Martinez wrote that Bettelyoun is the nephew of the Jicarilla Apache Nation’s Juvenile Officer, Letita Julian, who is married to detective Aaron Julian.

Continue reading “Prosecutor asks for life sentence in Dulce torture case”

Judge releases Arizona man to family amid the coronavirus pandemic

  • A federal district judge ordered Maroquez Clah released from an Albuquerque halfway house to his parents’ home in Red Valley, Ariz.
  • The district judge granted Clah’s appeal, overruling federal magistrate Judge Paul Briones, who refused to release him
  • Prosecutor Novaline Wilson opposed Clah’s release request in what could be an improperly sealed opposition 

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

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — A Red Valley, Ariz. man will get to return home to take care of his ailing father, help is elderly mother and raise his daughter after a federal District Court judge ordered him released from an Albuquerque halfway house, overruling a federal magistrate judge, and federal prosecutor, who wanted to keep him in a communal setting despite the risk of the coronavirus, in a ruling April 20, 2020.

Panoramic photo of Red Valley, Arizona, with no buildings in sight.
Red Valley, about a mile west of the New Mexico state line, 36.5850 -109.0712, Apache County, Arizona, 5/17/2014. Photo by Patrick Alexander/Flickr. CC BY-NC-SA

Federal District Court Judge Kea Riggs granted Maroquez Clah’s appeal on April 20, 2020, and ordered him released.

Clah is charged with involuntary manslaughter for allegedly crashing his truck while drunk, which killed Darrell Chavez, 22, on Aug. 30, 2019, near Mitten Rock, New Mexico. A grand jury indicted him on Nov. 25, 2019 but he was not arrested until Feb. 14, 2020 and released to a halfway house on Feb. 20, 2020, after he was arraigned by Federal Magistrate Judge Paul Briones, and over the objection of prosecutor Novaline Wilson. (Read more on the details of the crash in the case write-up or read previous stories about the case.)

Briones denied Clah’s request to be allowed to move to Red Valley, Ariz., to take care of his parents and daughter, on April 1, 2020 and wrote in his denial that the dangers of the halfway house were justified because of Clah’s “pattern of prior conduct” and that his defense attorney didn’t show that there are “sufficient safeguards” to protect the community from the risk of Clah drinking and driving, if he isn’t living at the halfway house.

Continue reading “Judge releases Arizona man to family amid the coronavirus pandemic”

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

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

See the full case write-up

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Judge: Arizona man not allowed to take care of ailing parents during coronavirus pandemic

  • Maroquez Clah wants to be released from an Albuquerque halfway house to his parents’ home in Red Valley, Ariz., because of the coronavirus and his parents’ health
  • Federal magistrate Judge Paul Briones wrote Clah poses too much of a risk to the community because of one prior drunk driving conviction
  • Prosecutor Novaline Wilson opposed Clah’s request in what could be an improperly sealed opposition 

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

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Despite approval from pretrial services officers, the looming threat of the coronavirus pandemic and a father slipping into dementia, a federal magistrate judge on April 1 refused to let a Red Valley, Ariz. man return home to help his elderly parents, relying on what appears to be an improperly sealed filing by a U.S. Attorney’s Office prosecutor, and he is appealing the decision.

Mitten Rock, off of Navajo Route 13 (Indian Services Route 13), New Mexico. Photo by James St. John/Flickr

Maroquez Clah is charged with involuntary manslaughter for allegedly crashing his truck while drunk, which killed a passenger identified as D.C. (YOB: 1997), on Aug. 30, 2019, near Mitten Rock, New Mexico. A grand jury indicted him on Nov. 25, 2019 but he was not arrested until Feb. 14, 2020. According to the federal docket sheet, Clah was released to a halfway house in Albuquerque on Feb. 20, 2020, after he was arraigned by federal Magistrate Judge Paul Briones.

On April 1, Briones denied Clah’s request to move from a halfway house in Albuquerque to his parents’ home in Red Valley, filed March 23. Briones did not have a hearing and instead relied on the emergency motion filed by Clah’s attorney, Emily Carey, and the opposition filed under seal by prosecutor Novaline Wilson. However, Wilson’s filing under seal appears to be against court rules on sealing documents, which require a judge’s consent and are only supposed to be done for very good reasons.

According to the local rules and federal court rules, documents are only supposed to be filed under seal for good reason and a record of the motion to file a document under seal is supposed to appear on the court docket, as outlined by Jeff Proctor in New Mexico In Depth.

Carey filed an appeal of Briones’ order on April 6, but no further documents or hearings have been docketed in the case.

She wrote in the initial motion that Briones, during the arraignment, said if Clah “performed well” at the halfway house, he would consider “possible modification” the conditions of his release. The current conditions restrict his travel to Bernalillo county. The minutes contain no details of what was said.

Wilson opposed Clah’s release pending trial during the arraignment, while pretrial officers suggested release, according to the minutes.

Carey wrote that Clah’s father is on dialysis and his health has recently declined and his mother, Bessie Begay, contacted her to say that his father has “developed something akin to dementia.”

Before being arrested, Clah “took on all of the household tasks and helped his mother with his father’s health care.” He also took care of his 4-year-old daughter, who is now in Begay’s custody, she wrote.

Continue reading “Judge: Arizona man not allowed to take care of ailing parents during coronavirus pandemic”

Maroquez Clah indicted for involuntary manslaughter in August 30, 2019 DWI crash

  • A federal grand jury indicted Maroquez Clah on Nov. 25, 2019 the case was not docketed until Dec. 3, 2019, and he was not arrested until Feb. 14, 2020
  • Clah allegedly killed a man as a result of a drunk driving crash in August 2019

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

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — A federal grand jury indicted Maroquez Clah, of Red Valley, Ariz., on a charge of involuntary manslaughter on Nov. 25, 2019, for a crash that killed a man in August 2019.

Mitten Rock, off of Navajo Route 13 (Indian Services Route 13), New Mexico. Photo by James St. John/Flickr

According to the indictment, Clah allegedly killed an unidentified man on Aug. 30, 2019, following a drunk driving crash in San Juan county.

The indictment contains no further details of the crash, its location, the victim or even where Clah was living at the time of the crash. (See updates and more details about the case)

Although the indictment was signed on Nov. 25, 2019, it was not entered into the federal court system until Dec. 3. Clah was not arrested until Feb. 14, 2020. His arrest warrant return was not entered into the online court system.

According to the federal docket sheet, Clah was not released to a halfway house in Albuquerque until Feb. 20, 2020, following a hearing in front of federal Magistrate Judge Paul Briones.

According to the minutes sheet from that hearing, Clah pleaded not guilty to the involuntary manslaughter charge.

Prosecutor Novaline Wilson opposed Clah’s release and asked he be held indefinitely even though pretrial services recommended he be released, according to the minutes.

Although Briones made findings in the case, the minutes sheet does not state what they were, or why Wilson argued that he should not be released.

According to Briones’ order setting the conditions of Clah’s release, he was restricted to travel in Bernalillo county, to avoid all contact with co-defendants, not operate a vehicle and reside at a halfway house in Albuquerque.

It is not clear from court records if there are co-defendants in his case.

Continue reading “Maroquez Clah indicted for involuntary manslaughter in August 30, 2019 DWI crash”

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.

Continue reading “Shiprock man pleads guilty to second-degree murder for killing fellow Navajo Nation man”