Tavor Tom pleads to 2nd-degree murder for killing of aunt

Tavor Tom pleaded guilty to second-degree murder
• He faces a maximum sentence of life for killing his aunt
Federal sentencing guidelines put his sentence at 16 to 20 years

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

SHIPROCK, N.M. —  Tavor Tom could receive a sentence of up to life in a federal prison after he pleaded guilty, Nov. 24, 2020, to second-degree murder for stabbing his aunt to death in 2019.

Tom, 19, of Shiprock, pleaded guilty in front of federal Magistrate Judge Kirtan Khalsa during a virtual hearing that lasted just over 30 minutes. Khalsa deferred final acceptance of the plea deal until sentencing by a district court judge, who has not been assigned yet.

Shiprock. Photo by Joseph Novak/Flickr

Tom will remain in jail pending his sentencing hearing.

A federal grand jury indicted him on July 9, 2019, on a charge of second-degree murder. He stabbed his aunt to death on July 1, 2019.

According to the plea deal proffered by federal prosecutor Joseph Spindle, there is no agreement as to the sentence.

Prosecutors will agree that Tom accepted responsibility for his conduct and grant that, under the sentencing guidelines, he is entitled to a reduction of two levels from the base offense. Spindle and Tom’s defense attorney, James Loonam, can argue whatever they want when it comes to the sentence.

In the plea agreement, Tom wrote that he stabbed his aunt repeatedly with a knife, “intentionally and without justification.”

When interrogated by FBI agents, he said he stabbed her repeatedly and slit her throat, according to court documents.

A records request for the autopsy report is pending with the Office of the Medical Investigator.

Sentencing guidelines

Second-degree murder carries a base offense level, per the federal sentencing guidelines for second-degree murder, is 38. The plea deal provides Tom 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 Tom’s proposed sentence, sans any increases or decreases, at 16 to 20 years. At a base offense level of 38, the level without the consideration of his guilty plea, the range increases to 20 to 24 years.

Based on a search of federal and state court records, Tom does not appear to have any prior state or federal arrests. His tribal criminal records are unknown.

His final sentence will be up to the sentencing judge. No sentencing date has been set.

Federal sentencing guidelines table, levels 33 to 43.
Federal sentencing guidelines table, levels 33 to 43.

The crime

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.

During an interrogation, Tom told FBI agents he killed his maternal aunt with a folding knife he took from his father’s vehicle. He intended to go to her house to steal her car so he could drive it to Farmington to steal Mucinex. After he stole it from the store, he drove on the back roads toward Shiprock and he crashed the vehicle into the fence. He was found in it the next morning, Cahoon wrote.

For more details on the crash, see the case write-up.

Continue reading “Tavor Tom pleads to 2nd-degree murder for killing of aunt”

Plea set for Tavor Tom in aunt’s stabbing death in Shiprock

• A change of plea hearing is set for Tavor Tom on Nov. 24, 2020
• A grand jury indicted Tom on a charge of second-degree murder for allegedly killing his aunt
• Tom told FBI agents he stabbed her seven to eight times and slit her throat

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

SHIPROCK, N.M. —  The Shiprock man who told police he stabbed his aunt and stole her car, before crashing it into a fence on his way to Farmington in 2019, is set for a change of plea hearing on Nov. 24, 2020.

Shiprock in the snow. Photo by Larry Lamsa/Flickr. CC-BY

According to a hearing notice, Tavor Tom, 19, is set for a change of plea hearing at 10 a.m. in front of Magistrate Judge Kirtan Khalsa. The hearing is to be held virtually, via Zoom.

A federal grand jury indicted him on July 9, 2019, on a charge of second-degree murder and his case has been continued at least four times. A jury trial in front of District Judge William Johnson had been set for Jan. 4. 2021.

Tom has been in custody since he was arrested on July 2, 2019. The prosecutor in the case appears to be Joseph Spindle with the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

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.

During an interrogation, Tom told FBI agents he killed his maternal aunt with a folding knife he took from his father’s vehicle. He intended to go to her house to steal her car so he could drive it to Farmington to steal Mucinex. After he stole it from the store, he drove on the back roads toward Shiprock and he crashed the vehicle into a fence at a church in Nenahnezad. He was found in it the next morning, Cahoon wrote.

For more details on the crash, see the case write-up.

Continue reading “Plea set for Tavor Tom in aunt’s stabbing death in Shiprock”

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

John Lodgepole’s plea sets his sentence at 6 to 8 years
• Lodgepole wrote he punched a woman in the head 10 times, then threw her to the ground
• While she was on the ground, he grabbed a cinderblock and smashed the back of her head
• When he saw she was still breathing, he propped up her legs and beat her ankles with a cane
• Federal prosecutor Raquel Ruiz-Velez proffered the binding plea deal

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

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The Fruitland man who staved in a woman’s head with a cinderblock, then beat her ankles with a cane after he saw she was still alive, will be sentenced to 6 to 8 years for the killing, after he pleaded guilty on Nov. 3, 2020.

John Lodgepole, 21, was initially charged with murder and then indicted on a charge of voluntary manslaughter, which brings a maximum sentence of 15 years, down from the maximum sentences of life for first- and second-degree murder.

Federal prosecutor Raquel Ruiz-Velez‘s offered plea deal states Lodgepole can only be sentenced to 6 to 8 years in prison for the brutal beating death of his mother’s friend in Nenahnezad, if it is ultimately accepted by a federal district court judge. If accepted, the binding plea agreement controls the sentence range.

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

Lodgepole wrote in a plea deal that he punched his mother’s friend in the head and face 10 times because she called him names and threatened him. He then threw her to the ground and then he took a cinderblock and “smashed the back of her head.” She is identified in court documents as M.W. (YOB: 1975).

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

No sentencing date has been set.

The press release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office on the plea makes no mention of the 6 to 8 year sentence.

Federal agents originally charged Lodgepole with murder after San Juan County Sheriff’s deputies found him covered in blood in the parking lot of the Chapter House, across the street from where he beat the woman to death, on Aug. 1, 2019.

His case remained sealed, despite his arrest, until 15 days after a grand jury indicted him on a charge of voluntary manslaughter on Oct. 9, 2019.

The incident

FBI Agent Jordan Spaeth wrote in an affidavit for a criminal complaint that Lodgepole’s mother, identified as E.L., told deputies she was drinking with the victim when her son threw M.W. to the ground and started kicking her in the head.

Earlier in the night, Lodgepole had been verbally abusive toward her and M.W., before he fatally attacked her, Spaeth wrote.

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.

A request for the autopsy report is pending.

Why voluntary manslaughter?

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

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

Lodgepole was initially charged with murder by Spaeth.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Continue reading “Fruitland man to receive 6-8 years for woman’s beating death”

Man set to plea in Nenahnezad beating death

• A change of plea hearing is set for Nov. 3, 2020
John Lodgepole was initially charged with murder for kicking a woman in the head, killing her, before he was indicted on a charge of voluntary manslaughter

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

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — A 21-year-old Fruitland man, accused of kicking a woman in the head and killing her in Nenahnezad, is set to plead on Nov. 3, 2020.

John Lodgepole‘s case is set for a change of plea hearing at 10 a.m., Nov. 3, 2020, according to a court docket.

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. His case remained sealed, despite his arrest, until 15 days after a grand jury indicted him on a charge of voluntary manslaughter on Oct. 9, 2019.

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

The indictment alleged he killed the woman “upon a sudden quarrel and heat of passion, and therefore without malice, unlawfully.” She is only identified by the initials M.W. and her year of birth, 1975. She is identified as a Navajo Nation member.

The change of plea hearing will be conducted through Zoom and in front of Federal Magistrate Judge Steven Yarbrough.

Lodgepole has previously pleaded no contest in a state case to two counts of battery on a healthcare worker, where he was to receive a conditional discharge after finishing probation. After he was arrested and charged with murder, he admitted to a probation violation and was sentenced to 319 days in prison, according to state court documents.

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

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, he wrote.

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, he wrote.

Spaeth charged Lodgepole with murder.

Continue reading “Man set to plea in Nenahnezad beating death”

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”

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

 

Summary

On Aug. 1, 2019, John Lodgepole allegedly went to the house of a woman he knew in Nenahnezad, near Fruitland, and became verbally abusive toward her and 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.

On Nov. 3, 2020, Lodgepole pleaded guilty to a single count of voluntary manslaughter. The plea deal sets his sentence at 6 to 8 years, is the district court judge accepts it at sentencing. No further hearings have been set.

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.

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

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

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

Indictment

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

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

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

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

Court delays

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

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

Plea deal

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

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

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

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

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

Why voluntary manslaughter?

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

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

Lodgepole was initially charged with murder by Spaeth.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

See the case documents on Google Drive or Document Cloud

Past stories

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

Man set to plea in Nenahnezad beating death

Trial in Nenahnezad beating death postponed for third time

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”

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

 

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.

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, of Shiprock, 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

 

Held without bail

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.

Plea to second-degree murder

Tom pleaded guilty, Nov. 24, 2020, to second-degree murder in front of federal Magistrate Judge Kirtan Khalsa during a virtual hearing that lasted just over 30 minutes. Khalsa deferred final acceptance of the plea deal until sentencing by a district court judge.

According to the plea deal proffered by federal prosecutor Joseph Spindle, there is no agreement as to the sentence.

Prosecutors will agree that Tom accepted responsibility for his conduct and grant that, under the sentencing guidelines, he is entitled to a reduction of two levels from the base offense. Spindle and Tom’s defense attorney, James Loonam, can argue whatever they want when it comes to the sentence.

In the plea agreement, Tom wrote that he stabbed his aunt repeatedly with a knife, “intentionally and without justification.”

When interrogated by FBI agents, he said he stabbed her repeatedly and slit her throat, according to court documents.

A records request for the autopsy report is pending with the Office of the Medical Investigator.

Sentencing guidelines

Second-degree murder carries a base offense level, per the federal sentencing guidelines for second-degree murder, is 38. The plea deal provides Tom 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 Tom’s proposed sentence, sans any increases or decreases, at 16 to 20 years. At a base offense level of 38, the level without the consideration of his guilty plea, the range increases to 20 to 24 years.

Based on a search of federal and state court records, Tom does not appear to have any prior state or federal arrests. His tribal criminal records are unknown.

His final sentence will be up to the sentencing judge. No sentencing date has been set.

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