Joshua Gutierrez pleads to voluntary manslaughter for To’Hajiilee shooting

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

See past stories or the case write-up

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Wheeler Cowperthwaite contributed to this report.

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Sentencing set for Breadsprings man who beat girlfriend to death

Troy Livingston pleaded guilty in August to second-degree murder
• Sentencing is tentatively set for November
• He beat to death Tyler Lamebear, his girlfriend

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

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Troy Livingston is set to be sentenced on Nov. 12, 2020, after he pleaded guilty in August to second-degree murder for beating his 19-year-old girlfriend to death.

A notice on the docket states the sentencing will be at 9:30 a.m. in the Cimarron courtroom in front of District Judge William Johnson.

The docket and notice do not state if the hearing will be in person, virtual, a combination of the two or if that has not been decided yet.

Livingston, 20, pleaded guilty on Aug. 4, 2020, to a criminal information charging him with second-degree murder for Tyler Lamebear’s beating death on April 6, 2019. Livingston is an enrolled member of the Navajo Nation. Second-degree murder carries a maximum sentence of life.

According to the plea deal signed by prosecutor David Cowen, Livingston will be entitled to a two-level reduction in the federal sentencing guidelines, although where that puts his sentence is unknown pending the outcome of a pre-sentence report.

According to the plea, Livingston admitted to beating Lamebear with his hands, feet and a metal flashlight causing severe head, face and body injuries.

Although Magistrate Judge Laura Fashing took the plea, she deferred final acceptance until the sentencing hearing in front of Johnson.

It appears from the docket that the pre-sentence report may have been filed because entry 50 from the docket is missing, pre-sentence reports are not public and a sentencing date has been set.

What federal probation officers think his sentencing range should be has not been entered into the court docket yet. It is usually revealed either through a prosecution or defense sentencing memorandum.

A federal grand jury previously indicted Livingston on a charge of first-degree murder on Jan. 29, 2020.

Sentencing guidelines

The base offense level, per the sentencing guidelines for second-degree murder, is 38. The plea deal provides Livingston with a two-level reduction for pleading guilty, putting the base level at 36.

According to the federal sentencing table, with little or no criminal history, that puts Livingston’s proposed sentence, sans any increases or decreases, at 16 to 20 years. At a base offense level of 38, the range increases to 20 to 24 years.

According to New Mexico and federal court records, Livingston has one past criminal case, for intoxicated driving and child endangerment from March 2019. Prosecutors dismissed that the case at the magistrate level, without prejudice, on May 8, 2019 in a form dismissal and wrote that Livingston was in federal custody for “an alleged capital offense.” Past arrests or convictions in tribal court are unknown. His addresses are listed as Church Rock and Vanderwagen in state court documents.

Federal sentencing guidelines table, levels 33 to 43.
Federal sentencing guidelines table, levels 33 to 43. Sentence ranges are in months. Second-degree murder has a base level of 38 (sentence range of 20 to 24 years) and the plea deal means a two-level reduction, to 36, creating a sentence range of 16 to 20 years.

 

The killing

On April 6, 2019, Troy Livingston’s mother, Gertrude Livingston, identified in charging documents as G.L., was at home when her son and his girlfriend, Tyler Lamebear, came home to her Rodeo Road home in Breadsprings, FBI Agent Monty Waldron wrote in a statement of probable cause for Livingston’s arrest.

At 3 a.m., Livingston and Lamebear were arguing and Gertrude Livingston could “sense tension” between them. She then heard crying, which she believed was from her son hitting Lamebear. He ordered his mother out of the bedroom and she complied, Waldron wrote.

When she heard more crying, she went into the bedroom and saw her son allegedly stomping his girlfriend with his foot and described the girlfriend as being in a ball, her arms and hands around her head, he wrote.

“Again LIVINGSTON told G.L. to get out, so G.L. left the house,” Waldron wrote. “LIVINGSTON locked the door behind G.L. From outside, G.L. could hear screaming, thumping and banging.”

When it was quiet, the mother went back into the house and heard wheezing from inside the bedroom door. At some point, she called the Navajo Police Department to report a violent “dispute,”  Waldron wrote.

Officers found Lamebear lying on the floor, covered in blood, badly beaten. They asked her who beat her and she responded, “Troy did this to me.” Livingston was lying on the bed next to his 2-1/2-year-old toddler, who was not harmed, he wrote.

Medics transported Lamebear to the Gallup Indian Medical Center. She either died at the hospital or before she arrived, he wrote.

Livingston told FBI Agent David Loos and Navajo Criminal Investigator Ben Yazzie, during an interrogation, that he “took it too far, way too far.” He was angry Lamebear admitted to having sex with his friend. He also admitted to using a flashlight to beat her, Waldron wrote.

According to the autopsy report by Lori Proe, Lamebear had multiple “bruises, scrapes and skin tears of the face and scalp” and many of them had a distinctive shape, like that of a flashlight. Her nose was broken and there was bleeding in the deep tissues of her scalp and bleeding over the surface of her brain, which was swollen, “a change that can occur when the organ is damaged and/or deprived of oxygen.”

Multiple ribs were broken and she was bleeding in her chest and what would be a bite mark on her left shoulder, Proe wrote.

According to a deputy field investigation by Harolynn Yazzie, she was covered in dried blood and her clothing was soaked in blood.

For more details on the incident, see the case write-up

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Breadsprings man pleads to second-degree murder for beating death of girlfriend

Troy Livingston pleaded guilty to second-degree murder for the beating death of 19-year-old Tyler Lamebear
• Livingston’s 2 1/2 year old child was in the house while he beat Lamebear to death
• He faces up to life in prison

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

ALBUQUERQUE,  N.M. — During a virtual 30-minute hearing Aug. 4, 2020, Troy Livingston, 19, pleaded guilty to second-degree murder for the beating death of his girlfriend, Tyler Lamebear, 19.

Troy Livingston

Livingston pleaded guilty to a criminal information charging him with second-degree murder for Lamebear’s death on April 6, 2019.

According to the plea deal signed by prosecutor David Cowen, Livingston will be entitled to a two-level reduction in the federal sentencing guidelines, although where that puts his sentence is unknown pending the outcome of a pre-sentence report.

According to the minutes, Magistrate Judge Laura Fashing asked why the plea needed to be held so soon, and made findings as to why the plea hearing was held, but not what those findings were. The final acceptance of the plea was deferred until the sentencing hearing in front of a district court judge.

According to the plea, Livingston admitted to beating Lamebear with his hands, feet and a metal flashlight causing severe head, face and body injuries.

No sentencing hearing has been set.

Second-degree murder carries a maximum sentence of life.

A federal grand jury previously indicted Livingston on a charge of first-degree murder on Jan. 29, 2020.

According to the autopsy report by Lori Proe, Lamebear had multiple “bruises, scrapes and skin tears of the face and scalp” and many of them had a distinctive shape, like that of a flashlight. Her nose was broken and there was bleeding in the deep tissues of her scalp and bleeding over the surface of her brain, which was swollen, “a change that can occur when the organ is damaged and/or deprived of oxygen.”

Multiple ribs were broken and she was bleeding in her chest and what would be a bite mark on her left shoulder, Proe wrote.

According to a deputy field investigation by Harolynn Yazzie, she was covered in dried blood and her clothing was soaked in blood.

The incident

On April 6, 2019, Troy Livingston’s mother, Gertrude Livingston, identified in charging documents as G.L., was at home when her son and his girlfriend, Tyler Lamebear, came home to her Rodeo Road home in Breadsprings, FBI Agent Monty Waldron wrote in a statement of probable cause for Livingston’s arrest.

At 3 a.m., Livingston and Lamebear were arguing and Gertrude Livingston could “sense tension” between them. She then heard crying, which she believed was from her son hitting Lamebear. He ordered his mother out of the bedroom and she complied, Waldron wrote.

When she heard more crying, she went into the bedroom and saw her son allegedly stomping his girlfriend with his foot and described the girlfriend as being in a ball, her arms and hands around her head, he wrote.

“Again LIVINGSTON told G.L. to get out, so G.L. left the house,” Waldron wrote. “LIVINGSTON locked the door behind G.L. From outside, G.L. could hear screaming, thumping and banging.”

When it was quiet, the mother went back into the house and heard wheezing from inside the bedroom door. At some point, she called the Navajo Police Department to report a violent “dispute,”  Waldron wrote.

Officers found Lamebear lying on the floor, covered in blood, badly beaten. They asked her who beat her and she responded, “Troy did this to me.” Livingston was lying on the bed next to his 2-1/2-year-old toddler, who was not harmed, he wrote.

Medics transported the girlfriend to the Gallup Indian Medical Center. She either died at the hospital or before she arrived, he wrote.

Livingston told FBI Agent David Loos and Navajo Criminal Investigator Ben Yazzie, during an interrogation, that he “took it too far, way too far.” He was angry Lamebear admitted to having sex with his friend, Waldron wrote.

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Trial in Nenahnezad beating death postponed for third time

  • FBI agents originally charged John Lodgepole with murder for allegedly killing a woman by repeatedly kicking her in the head on Aug. 1, 2019
  • Despite being arrested, his case was sealed until a day before he was arraigned on an indictment for voluntary manslaughter
  • His case has been postponed three times already

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

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — John Lodgepole‘s trial on a charge of voluntary manslaughter for the alleged Aug. 1, 2019 beating death of a woman in Nenahnezad has been tentatively set for June 1, 2020.

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

Lodgepole was first arrested, and charged with murder, on Aug. 1, 2019, the night he allegedly kicked a woman in the head repeatedly, killing her.

A federal grand jury indicted Lodgepole, 20, on a charge of voluntary manslaughter on Oct. 9, 2019, alleging “upon a sudden quarrel and heat of passion, and therefore without malice, unlawfully” killed a woman only identified by the initials M.W. (YOB: 1975).

Since he was arraigned on Oct. 28 by Magistrate Judge Kirtan Khalsa, his case has been continued three times at the request of his defense attorney, Melissa Morris. He pleaded not guilty during that hearing and waived a detention hearing.

A trial is tentatively set for June 1, 2020, per a court order to continue on March 10, 2020, but in her motion to continue the case, Morris wrote she has not begun plea negotiations with prosecutor Raquel Ruiz-Velez.

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.

The homeowner, identified by her initials of E.L., told deputies she was drinking with the victim, M.W., when Lodgepole threw M.W. to the ground and started kicking her in the head, 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 M.W. As the night went on, he threw M.W. to the ground and kicked her in the head.

Continue reading “Trial in Nenahnezad beating death postponed for third time”

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

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

Read the case write-up here

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

They stopped at the Route 66 Casino, Robinson wrote.

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

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

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

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

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

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

On March 31, 2020, Gutierrez appeared in Federal District Court for his initial appearance and was ordered held without bail. A release hearing is set for 9:40 a.m., April 2, according to court documents.

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Joshua Gutierrez: Llewyn Platero — 3-29-2020

Suspect: Joshua Gutierrez

Victim: Llewyn Platero, 36

Charges: Murder

Date of incident: March 29, 2020

Status: Guilty plea to voluntary manslaughter, discharging a firearm in the course of the crime.

Sentence: 12 years per the plea agreement, final acceptance to be made by the sentencing judge

Investigating Agency: FBI

Location: To’Hajiilee, Bernalillo County

Federal magistrate case number: 20-mj-01001

Federal district case number: 20-cr-01867

Prosecuting agency: U.S. Attorney’s Office

Prosecutor: Allison Jaros

Defense attorney: Sylvia Baiz

Plea judge: Magistrate Judge Paul Briones

Other judge: Magistrate Judge Kirtan Khalsa

Sentencing judge: To be determined

 

Summary

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

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

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The incident

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

They stopped at the Route 66 Casino, Robinson wrote.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The autopsy

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

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

The bullet was recovered from the right back.

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

Secret records

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

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

In New Mexico, autopsy reports are public records.

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

Plea

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

See the case documents on Google Drive or Document Cloud

Andrew Martinez contributed to this report

See past stories on this case

Joshua Gutierrez pleads to voluntary manslaughter for To’Hajiilee shooting

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

Breadsprings man indicted for first-degree murder in beating death of girlfriend

  • A federal grand jury indicted Troy Livingston on a single charge of first-degree murder on Jan. 29, 2020
  • Investigators allege Livingston confessed to beating her to death
  • Livingston’s child, 2 1/2, was found in the room with the beaten woman and Livingston

See the case write-up here.

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — A federal grand jury indicted a Breadsprings man, Jan. 29, 2020, for the beating death of 19-year-old Tyler Lamebear, his girlfriend, on April 6, 2019.

Troy Livingston, a member of the Navajo Nation, was originally charged on April 6, 2019, for his Tyler Lamebear’s death. He waived his right to a preliminary hearing as well as a grand jury indictment within 30 days before he was indicted on Jan. 29. He waived the indictment in hopes of securing a more lucrative plea deal, according to a motion for a continuance.

No trial date has been set.

The incident

FBI Agent Monty Waldron wrote in a statement of probable cause for his arrest that his mother made the call to 911 that eventually sent police, and then medics, to help the woman, who identified Livingston as her assailant.

His mother, Gertrude Livingston, identified in charging documents as G.L., was at home when her son and Lamebear, identified in court documents as T.L. or “Jane Doe,” came home to her Rodeo Road home in Breadsprings, Waldron wrote.

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John Lodgepole: M.W., YOB 1975 — 8-1-2019

Suspect: John Lodgepole

Victim: M.W., female, YOB 1975, Navajo Nation tribal member

Charges: Voluntary manslaughter

Date of incident: Aug. 1, 2019

Type of incident: Beating

Status: Pending

Investigating Agency: FBI

Location: Nenahnezad, San Juan county, Navajo Nation, NM

Federal district case number: 19-cr-03599

Federal magistrate case number: 19-mj-02388

Prosecutor: Raquel Ruiz-Velez

 

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 another woman. Later that night he allegedly came back, threw the victim, M.W. (YOB: 1975) to the ground and kicked her in the head multiple times. 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.

The case was continued three times — on Oct. 30, 2019; Jan. 13, 2020 and March 10, 2020. It is still pending, according to the docket.

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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 victim, identified in court documents as M.W. (YOB: 1975) or Jane Doe, when John Lodgepole threw M.W. 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 M.W. As the night went on, he threw M.W. to the ground and kicked her in the head.

Outside the house, investigators found a bloody metal baseball bat and shoe prints near where M.W.’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 M.W.’s head, including one that likely fractured her skull.

Spaeth charged Lodgepole with murder.

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, plea negotiations have not begun in the case. It is still pending.

According to the docket, a call of the calendar is set for May 21, 2020.

 

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Tavor Tom: Unidentified woman (aunt) — 7-1-2019

Suspect: Tavor Tom, 18

Victim: Unidentified woman (Tom’s maternal aunt)

Charges: Second-degree murder (initially charged as first-degree murder)

Status: Pending

Date of incident: July 1, 2019

Investigative agencies: Federal Bureau of Investigations, Navajo Nation Criminal Investigation Section, McKinley County Sheriff’s Office

Location: Single-wide trailer, 25 yards east of Nizhoni Smile Dental, Shiprock, NM

County: McKinley County

Relation to victim: Nephew (maternal)

Federal Magistrate case number: 19-mj-01913

Federal District case number: 19-cr-02180

 

Summary

Tavor Tom, a member of the Navajo nation, allegedly went on July 1, 2019 to his maternal aunt’s house and stabbed her repeatedly, killing her, stole her car, then crashed it into a fence, according to his alleged confession.

He was allegedly trying to get to Farmington because he wanted to steal the over-the-counter drug Mucinex, generically known as guaifenesin.

A federal grand jury indicted him eight days later on July 9, 2019, on a charge of second-degree murder. His case is pending.

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The incident

Shiprock Pinnacle. Photo by DiAnn L’Roy/Flickr

At 10 a.m., July 2, 2019, the victim was found dead in her house by her father. Sometime during that same morning, Tavor Tom was found in the victim’s Jeep Cherokee, after he crashed into a fence in front of a church in Nenahnezad. Navajo Nation police officers found a bloody knife in the car, FBI agent Cary Cahoon wrote in an affidavit for an arrest warrant.

FBI agent Kalon Fancher interviewed Tom and advised him he did not have to speak with him, but Cahoon did not write if Fancher told Tom his Miranda rights.

According to Fancher’s interview with Tom, the latter allegedly admitted to killing the victim with a folding knife he took from his father’s vehicle with the intention of going to the victim’s house to steal her car so he could drive it to Farmington to steal Mucinex, Cahoon wrote.

Tom allegedly said he went to the victim’s trailer, “slit her throat and then stabbed her seven (7) or (8) times with the knife he took from his father’s vehicle, and then stole her vehicle,” Cahoon wrote.

Tom allegedly said he drove to the Wal-Mart in Farmington, stole Mucinex from the store around 7 p.m. and drove on the back roads toward Shiprock, Cahoon wrote.

He then crashed the vehicle into a fence at a church in Nenahnezad, rendering the vehicle undriveable. He was found in the vehicle the next morning.

Crashed car

Navajo Nation firefighter Derrick Woody told Cahoon that he responded to Tom’s car crash and that Tom allegedly tried to overdose on Mucinex. The drug, as well as vomit, were found in the vehicle.

Navajo Nation Sgt. Francis Yazzie told Cahoon that he also responded to the crash and he found a folding knife with blood on it on the passenger-side floorboard.

Family interviews

The victim’s father, only identified by the initials R. C., found the victim, unnamed in federal court documents, when he went to check on her at the behest of her adult children, who could not reach her on the phone.

“After R.C. discovered Victim and realized she was deceased, he called 911,” Cahoon wrote.

Cahoon was called by Navajo Nation detective Jerrick Curley that there had been a killing in Shiprock, in the exterior boundaries of the reservation.

Curley told Cahoon that he found the woman lying on her bedroom floor with multiple cuts and blood around her. He also told Cahoon that the woman’s nephew, Tom, had been in a car crash near Nenahnezad. The car he crashed allegedly belonged to the alleged victim and inside the vehicle police found a knife with blood on it.

The victim’s father, Tom’s grandfather, told Cahoon that Tom had come to his house, next door to the victim’s, at 6 p.m., July 1, 2019, to use his computer, and then left.

Tom’s mother, who was the victim’s sister and is only identified by the initials “M.T.,” told Cahoon that Tom lived with her at her house in Shiprock, which was in “close proximity” to the victim’s house, a single-wide trailer. Tom got around on a red ATV, parked next to R.C.’s house.

“M.T. received a text message from TOM the previous night (07/01/2019) and indicated he was with his friends,” Cahoon wrote. “M.T. went to visit Victim at her residence the previous evening (07/01/2019), at approximately 6:30 p.m., when M.T. arrived and saw that Victim’s vehicle was gone, she assumed Victim left in her vehicle to go somewhere.”

She said her son had been addicted to Mucinex for several years and uses it to get high.

“TOM also had been suicidal in the past and has become more violent recently,” he wrote.

M.T. alleged her son often takes her car without permission and drives it to stores where he can steal Mucinex. She also acknowledged that Tom was found in the victim’s vehicle.

“M.T. believed TOM was the one who killed Victim,” Cahoon wrote. “R.C. and M.T. both advised that Tom often went by and visited Victim at her house and that they got along with one another.”

The crime scene

In the afternoon of July 2, 2019, officers searched the interior and exterior of the victim’s trailer, although Cahoon did not write whom he obtained consent from, since the victim was dead.

During the search, officers found the key to Tom’s red ATV on a couch in the living room. A cell phone was found on a different couch in the living room and there were drops of blood in the kitchen, laundry room and bedroom.

“Additionally, the medicine cabinet door was open in the kitchen and it appeared that someone had rummaged through the prescriptions and over-the-counter medications,” Cahoon wrote.

The field investigator with the Office of the Medical Investigator found the victim had “trauma” and cuts to her neck, back and chest.

 

gov.uscourts.nmd.424819.1.0

 

Case progress

According to the court docket, Tom initially appeared July 3, 2019 and on July 10 in Albuquerque federal court, and he was ordered held indefinitely after his attorney waived a detention hearing.

On July 10, his attorney filed a waiver of a preliminary hearing. However, a federal grand jury had already indicted him on July 9, 2019, on a charge of second-degree murder. It was then set for a tentative trial date of Sept. 3, 2019.

According to the docket, that trial date was continued on Aug. 26, 2019 and the new tentative trial date is Feb. 10, 2020.

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Navajo Nation man, 19, arrested for allegedly stabbing his aunt to death in Shiprock

See the full case write-up here

SHIPROCK, N.M. — Agents with the Federal Bureau of Investigations charged a Shiprock man with murder for allegedly stabbing his aunt to death at her home on July 1, 2019.

Tavor Tom, 19, was charged with an open count of murder, according to a criminal complaint and affidavit filed on July 3 in federal District Court. He was later indicted on a charge of second-degree murder on July 9, 2019.

Shiprock Pinnacle. Photo by DiAnn L’Roy/Flickr

The woman, described by interviewed witnesses as Tom’s maternal aunt but unnamed in court documents (but identified by her year of birth, 1974), was found dead in her home at 10 a.m. the following day, July 2, 2019, by her father. Sometime during that same morning, Tom was found in the victim’s Jeep Cherokee, after he allegedly crashed into a fence in front of a church in Nenahnezad. Navajo Nation police officers found a bloody knife in the car, FBI agent Cary Cahoon wrote in an affidavit for an arrest warrant.

FBI agent Kalon Fancher interviewed Tom and advised him he did not have to speak with him, but Cahoon did not write if Fancher told Tom his Miranda rights.

According to Fancher’s interview with Tom, the latter allegedly admitted to killing the victim with a folding knife he took from his father’s vehicle with the intention of going to the victim’s house to steal her car so he could drive it to Farmington to steal Mucinex, Cahoon wrote.

Continue reading “Navajo Nation man, 19, arrested for allegedly stabbing his aunt to death in Shiprock”

Troy Livingston: Tyler Lamebear — 4-6-2019

Suspect: Troy Livingston

Victim: Tyler Lamebear, 19

Charges: First-degree murder pleaded down to second-degree murder

Status: Plea to second-degree murder, pending sentencing. Initially Indicted on a charge of first-degree murder

Sentence: Set for 9:30 a.m., Nov. 12, 2020, Albuquerque Federal Court, Cimarron courtroom

Date of incident: April 6, 2019

Investigating agency: FBI

Prosecutor: David Cowen

Prosecuting agency: U.S. Attorney’s Office

Plea judge: Magistrate Judge Laura Fashing

Sentencing judge: District Judge William Johnson

Location: 53 Rodeo Road, Breadsprings, Navajo Nation, NM

County: McKinley County

Magistrate case number: 19-mj-00971

District case number: 20-cr-00316

 

Summary

On April 6, 2019, Troy Livingston, 18, beat his girlfriend, Tyler Lamebear, to death with his fists, feet and a flashlight after she said she had slept with one of his friends, according to court documents.

On Jan. 29, 2020, a federal grand jury indicted Livingston on a charge of first-degree murder for Lamebear’s death.

On Aug. 4, 2020, he pleaded guilty to a criminal information charging him with second-degree murder. No sentencing hearing has been set.

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The incident

On April 6, 2019, Troy Livingston’s mother, Gertrude Livingston, identified in charging documents as G.L., was at home when her son and his girlfriend, Tyler Lamebear, came home to her Rodeo Road home in Breadsprings, FBI Agent Monty Waldron wrote in a statement of probable cause for Livingston’s arrest.

At 3 a.m., Livingston and his girlfriend, Lamebear, were arguing and Gertrude Livingston could “sense tension” between them, he wrote.

Lamebear is identified as T.L. or “Jane Doe” in charging documents.

Troy Livingston

“G.L. heard crying from the bedroom and went in to see LIVINGSTON on top of Jane Doe with his fist raised,” Waldron wrote. “G.L. believes Jane Doe had already been hit because she was crying. Livingston told G.L. to get out of the bedroom which she did.”

When she heard more crying, she went into the bedroom and saw her son allegedly stomping his girlfriend with his foot and described the girlfriend as being in a ball, her arms and hands around her head, he wrote.

“Again LIVINGSTON told G.L. to get out, so G.L. left the house,” Waldron wrote. “LIVINGSTON locked the door behind G.L. From outside, G.L. could hear screaming, thumping and banging.”

When it was quiet, the mother went back into the house. She heard wheezing from inside the bedroom door, but did not know who was wheezing, he wrote.

At some point, she called the Navajo Police Department to report a violent “dispute” between Lamebear and her son, he wrote.

About 30 minutes after she went back into the house, Navajo police officers arrived and knocked on the door. When no one answered, they looked through the windows and saw blood on the floor. The mother then opened the door. Officers could see “lots of blood on the floor between the bedroom and the bathroom,” Waldron wrote.

Officers found the girlfriend laying on the floor, covered in blood, badly beaten. They asked her who beat her and she responded, “Troy did this to me.” Livingston was lying on the bed next to this 2-1/2-year-old toddler, who was not harmed, he wrote.

Medics transported the girlfriend to the Gallup Indian Medical Center. She either died at the hospital or before she arrived, he wrote.

FBI Agent David Loos and Navajo Criminal Investigator Ben Yazzie interrogated Livingston.

“I just got mad and took it too far, way too far,” Livingston said, according to Waldron’s statement of probable cause.

Livingston also allegedly said “I still can’t believe it, I killed her,” he wrote.

“LIVINGSTON stated that he was mad at her for sleeping with his friend as Jane Doe had finally admitted to doing,” Waldron wrote. “LIVINGSTON stated he ‘just started hitting her’ and took it too far. Livingston stated he hit Jane Doe with a flashlight and also used his foot.”

Livingston allegedly said he beat her in the bedroom and bathroom, he wrote.

FBI agents searched the house and found a flashlight with blood on it and photographs of Lamebear showed circular wounds that appeared to be consistent with the end of a flashlight, he wrote.

According to the autopsy report by Lori Proe, Lamebear had multiple “bruises, scrapes and skin tears of the face and scalp” and many of them had a distinctive shape, like that of a flashlight. Her nose was broken and there was bleeding in the deep tissues of her scalp and bleeding over the surface of her brain, which was swollen, “a change that can occur when the organ is damaged and/or deprived of oxygen.”

Multiple ribs were broken and she was bleeding in her chest and what would be a bite mark on her left shoulder, Proe wrote.

According to a deputy field investigation by Harolynn Yazzie, she was covered in dried blood and her clothing was soaked in blood.

The indictment and plea

After waiving his right to a grand jury indictment, as well as a preliminary hearing, a federal grand jury indicted him on a charge of first-degree murder on Jan. 29, 2020.

On Aug. 4, 2020, Livingston pleaded guilty to a criminal information charging him with second-degree murder for beating Lamebear to death.

According to the plea deal signed by prosecutor David Cowen, Livingston will be entitled to a two-level reduction in the federal sentencing guidelines, although where that puts his sentence is unknown pending the outcome of a pre-sentence report.

According to the minutes, Magistrate Judge Laura Fashing asked why the plea needed to be held so soon, and made findings as to why the plea hearing was held, but not what those findings were. The final acceptance of the plea was deferred until the sentencing hearing in front of a district court judge.

A sentencing hearing is set for Nov. 12, 2020.

Sentencing guidelines

The base offense level, per the sentencing guidelines for second-degree murder, is 38. The plea deal provides Livingston with a two-level reduction for pleading guilty, putting the base level at 36.

According to the federal sentencing table, with little or no criminal history, that puts Livingston’s proposed sentence, sans any increases or decreases, at 16 to 20 years. At a base offense level of 38, the range increases to 20 to 24 years.

According to New Mexico and federal court records, Livingston has one past criminal case, for intoxicated driving and child endangerment from March 2019. Prosecutors dismissed that the case at the magistrate level, without prejudice, on May 8, 2019 in a form dismissal and wrote that Livingston was in federal custody for “an alleged capital offense.” His past arrests or convictions in tribal court is unknown.

Federal sentencing guidelines table, levels 33 to 43.
Federal sentencing guidelines table, levels 33 to 43. Sentence ranges are in months. Second-degree murder has a base level of 38 (sentence range of 20 to 24 years) and the plea deal means a two-level reduction, to 36, creating a sentence range of 16 to 20 years.

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Sentencing set for Breadsprings man who beat girlfriend to death

Breadsprings man pleads to second-degree murder for beating death of girlfriend

Breadsprings man indicted for first-degree murder in beating death of girlfriend

 

Richmond Sam: Jefferson Herrera — 7-30-2015

Suspect: Richmond Sam

Victim: Jefferson Herrera

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

Status: Guilty plea to involuntary manslaughter

Sentence: 1 year, 3 months (15 months)

Date of incident: July 30, 2015

Agency: FBI

Location: Counselor, Navajo Nation, San Juan County

District case number: 15-cr-03051

 

The summary

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The incident

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Below if the affidavit for an arrest warrant.

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

Court proceedings

Previous incident

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

Indictment and plea

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

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

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

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

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

Sentencing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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