Tavor Tom sentenced to 15 years for stabbing aunt to death

• Tavor Tom faced a maximum sentence of life
• Prosecutor Joseph Spindle asked for 17.5 and his defense attorney asked for 7 years
• Tom stabbed his aunt, Roberta Clyde, 75 times at her Shiprock home

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

SHIPROCK, N.M. — A federal judge sentenced Tavor Tom, 20, to 15 years in federal prison, April 7, for stabbing his aunt to death at her Shiprock home in 2019.

Judge William Johnson sentenced during a virtual hearing. Tom, of Shiprock, pleaded guilty to second-degree murder on Nov. 24, 2020 for stabbing to death his aunt, Roberta Clyde, 45, and there was no agreement to the sentence.

Shiprock Pinnacle. Photo by DiAnn L’Roy/Flickr

Federal probation officers calculated Tom’s suggested sentence at 14 to 17.5 years. His attorney, James Loonam, asked for half of that, seven years, while prosecutor Joseph Spindle asked for the maximum under the guidelines, 17.5 years.

Tom appeared via video for the sentencing hearing and family members appeared via Zoom and one of them addressed the court, according to minutes from the hearing.

The minutes do not say who spoke or what was said. At the hearing, Spindle argued for 17.5 years and Loonam argued for seven years.

Tom must also pay $4,077 in restitution to Erik Benally, $11,522 to State Farm and $6,000 to the New Mexico Crime Victim’s Reparation Commission.

According to court records, after stabbing Clyde to death on July 1, 2019, Tom stole her Jeep Cherokee, eventually crashing it 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.

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.

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

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

• John Lodgepole pleaded guilty to beating Michealene Warren to death in Nenahnezad 
• Prosecutor Raquel Ruiz-Velez gave him a plea deal of six to eight years and asked a judge to sentence him to seven
• His sentencing has been indefinitely postponed

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

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — After giving John Lodgepole, 22, a plea deal of six to eight years for staving in the head of a woman, and then beating her ankles with a cane, federal prosecutor Raquel Ruiz-Velez is asking a judge to sentence him to seven years in prison.

In a largely boilerplate sentencing memorandum filed on Feb. 26, 2021, Ruiz-Velez wrote that a presentence investigation report put Lodgepole’s sentencing guideline at 6 1/2 to 8 years, with an offense level of 26 and a criminal history category of III.  He was indicted Oct. 9, 2019, on a charge of voluntary manslaughter, after initially being charged with murder.

Ruiz-Velez gave Lodgepole, of Fruitland, a plea of six to eight years on Nov. 3, 2020. One paragraph addresses Lodgepole as a person, as Ruiz-Velez wrote that he had a significant criminal history for only being 22, that he was on probation when he killed Michaelene Warren, 43, and he has a history of violence and substance abuse.

On June 11, 2020, jail guards found 11 Suboxone strips in his incoming mail and his substance abuse appears to have followed him into jail, she wrote.

Ruiz-Velez wrote Lodgepole’s killing of Warren as “extremely violent” and “heinous conduct.” Quoting from the sentencing investigation, she wrote that Warren’s parents are “emotionally hurting from what occurred.”

Lodgepole had been set to be sentenced on April 14 in front of District Judge James Parker, but that hearing was cancelled on April 2. Parker can still, technically, reject Lodgepole’s binding plea deal at sentencing. The reasons behind the plea deal are unknown, as are the reasons why he was indicted on a charge of voluntary manslaughter.

No reason is listed and no new hearing has been set.

While Ruiz-Velez submitted a sentencing memorandum, Lodgepole’s attorney, Melissa Morris, does not appear to have filed one, according to the docket.

Lodgepole wrote in the plea deal that he punched Warren 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” in Nenahnezad.

“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,” Lodgepole wrote in the plea deal.

Warren, 43, was a friend of Lodgepole’s mother. Warren’s obituary contains no information about her.

Read more about the incident in the case write-up.

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Tavor Tom to ask for 7 years at sentencing, prosecution for 17

Tavor Tom‘s sentencing is set, virtually, for 2 p.m., April 7
• The defense wants seven years while the prosecution wants 17.5
• Judge William Johnson has total sentencing discretion, up to life

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

SHIPROCK, N.M. — Tavor Tom is asking a judge to sentence him to seven years for stabbing his aunt 75 times at her Shiprock home, including twice through the skull, while federal prosecutors are asking for 17 years.

Tom pleaded guilty on Nov. 24, 2020, to second-degree murder for stabbing to death his aunt, Roberta Clyde, 45, in 2019, after being indicted on the same charge on July 9, 2019. There was no agreement as to sentence, which is up to the sentencing judge.

Tom’s sentencing is currently set for 2 p.m., April 7, 2021, after being reset multiple times because the judge, William Johnson, was unavailable.

Tom’s attorney, James Loonam, wrote in a sentencing memorandum that Tom should be sentenced to seven years, half of his calculated sentence guideline of 14 to 17.5 years. Second-degree murder carries a maximum sentence of life.

Loonam wrote that Tom’s age at the time, 18, was one reason, and that Tom, high on and addicted to dextromethorphan, also known as Mucinex, was “operating under diminished capacity” when he stabbed his aunt to death. That he killed a family member, and “will face consequences of loss of part of his family for the rest of his life,” was the third reason for giving Tom a sentence below the guidelines. Tom had been addicted to the drug since he was 14.

“Tavor knows that his actions have caused everyone he loves and cares about almost unbearable pain,” he wrote.

Loonam wrote that Tom was hospitalized 10 times for dextromethorphan overdoses and five times were suicide attempts. He included a timeline of the overdoses.

“Each hospitalization indicates that Tavor exhibited signs of chronic depression,” he wrote.

Loonam wrote that Tom’s actions were “a product of that (drug) abuse and addiction.”

Prosecutor Joseph Spindle wrote in his own sentencing memorandum that Johnson should sentence Tom to the high end of the sentencing guideline calculated by the U.S. Probation Office, 17.5 years.

Spindle wrote that Tom went to Clyde’s house to steal her car.

“However, once he was inside her house, the attempted theft became infinitely worse,” he wrote. “Before stealing her car, Defendant decided to stab his aunt seventy-five times in the face, back, abdomen, arms, hands and neck. She died of blood loss on the floor of her bedroom, alone and suffering.”

Among the reasons for a sentencing at the top of the guideline was how “senseless and brutal” it was.

“The stabbing was so frenzied, two of the stab wounds penetrated her skull,” Spindle wrote. “She died of blood loss. This level of brutality far exceeds what would have been necessary to effectuate a murder.”

While Tom is young and experienced traumatic events, his drug use contributed to them and he seems disinterested in curbing his use, he wrote. Spindle wrote:

“According to Defendant, treatment “takes up too much time.” (Doc. 38, ¶ 60). This level of apathy to his drug use, even after multiple overdoses and the murder of a loved-one, indicates that he is not interested in changing his life. Therefore, even if the brutal murder of his aunt can be partially attributed to Defendant’s drug use, the fact that he does not intend curtail his drug use indicates he will remain a public safety risk.”

Spindle is also asking for $21,606 in restitution.

The stabbing

At 10 a.m., July 2, 2019, Clyde was found dead in her house by her father. Sometime during that same morning, Tavor Tom was found in her 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 Clyde 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.

Pathologist Ross Zumwalt wrote in the autopsy report that Clyde suffered a total of 75 separate “sharp force injuries,” meaning stab wounds and incised, or slashing, wounds.

“Two of the stab wounds of the back of the head penetrated the skull resulting in bleeding around the brain,” Zumwalt wrote.

Clyde also has four stab wounds in her chest and one in her abdomen, which penetrated her stomach. She also has cutting wounds on her hands, which Zumwalt classified as probable defensive wounds.

“Death was a result of the blood loss caused by the multiple wounds,” Zumwalt wrote.

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

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John Lodgepole to be sentenced in April for brutal killing of woman in Nenahnezad

John Lodgepole beat Michaelene Warren and staved in her head with a cinderblock
• When he saw she was still alive, he propped up her legs and beat her ankles with a cane
• Prosecutor Raquel Ruiz-Velez gave him a plea deal of six to eight years

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

Update: On April 2, 2021, the sentencing date was vacated. No reason was given and no new sentencing date has been set.

Albuquerque, N.M. — A sentencing hearing has been tentatively set for John Lodgepole, who pleaded guilty to manslaughter for beating Michaelene Warren, staving in her head with a cinderblock and, after he saw she was still alive, beating her ankles with a cane.

Lodgepole, 21, of Fruitland, is tentatively set to be sentenced at 3 p.m., April 14, 2021, by District Judge James Parker, according to a hearing notice. The hearing will be held virtually, via Zoom. No courtroom is listed on the hearing notice, entered on Feb. 10, 2021.

Lodgepole pleaded guilty to a single count of voluntary manslaughter, on Nov. 3, 2020, for Warren’s brutal beating death, on Aug. 1, 2019, in Nenahnezad. He signed a binding plea deal that set his sentence at just six to eight years. The deal was proffered by federal prosecutor Raquel Ruiz-Velez. The sentencing judge, Parker, can still reject it.

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

Lodgepole wrote in the plea deal that he punched Warren 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.”

Warren, 43, was a friend of Lodgepole’s mother.

“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.

The reasons behind the plea deal are unknown. He was indicted Oct. 9, 2019, on a charge of voluntary manslaughter.

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Tavor Tom to be sentenced in March for brutal stabbing death of aunt

Tavor Tom stabbed or slashed aunt Roberta Clyde at least 75 times
• Tom pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in November
• Judge William Johnson has total discretion to sentence him from no time to life imprisonment

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

SHIPROCK, N.M. — Tavor Tom could be sentenced as early as March 12, 2021, after he pleaded guilty in November to second-degree murder for the brutal stabbing death of his maternal aunt, Roberta Clyde, 45, of Shiprock.

District Judge William Johnson tentatively set the virtual sentencing hearing via a notice entered on Jan. 27. Assuming the case is not continued, it will be conducted over the video conferencing platform Zoom.

Federal sentencing guidelines appear to place Tom’s suggested sentence at 16 to 20 years. No sentencing memorandums, from the prosecution or defense, have been filed n the case.

Tom, 19, of Shiprock, pleaded guilty on Nov. 24, 2020, to second-degree murder for stabbing Clyde to death in 2019. The plea was conditionally accepted by federal Magistrate Judge Kirtan Khalsa during a virtual hearing that lasted just over 30 minutes.

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.

The stabbing

At 10 a.m., July 2, 2019, Clyde was found dead in her house by her father. Sometime during that same morning, Tavor Tom was found in her 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 Clyde 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.

Pathologist Ross Zumwalt wrote in the autopsy report that Clyde suffered a total of 75 separate “sharp force injuries,” meaning stab wounds and incised, or slashing, wounds.

“Two of the stab wounds of the back of the head penetrated the skull resulting in bleeding around the brain,” Zumwalt wrote.

Clyde also has four stab wounds in her chest and one in her abdomen, which penetrated her stomach. She also has cutting wounds on her hands, which Zumwalt classified as probable defensive wounds.

“Death was a result of the blood loss caused by the multiple wounds,” Zumwalt wrote.

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

See the case on CourtListener.com or read the documents on Google Drive or Document Cloud

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

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

See the full case summary or past stories on the case

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The stabbing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

See the full case summary or past stories on the case

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

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

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

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

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

Joe will appear remotely for the hearing.

The stabbing

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

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

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

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

Sentencing memorandums

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The crash

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

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

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

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

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

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”

Sentencing date set for Arizona man in fatal DWI crash

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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See the case documents on Google Drive or Document Cloud

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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”

Arizona man pleads to involuntary manslaughter without deal in DWI killing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No sentencing date has been set.

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

Details of the crash

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

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

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

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

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

DA dismisses murder charge against Anthony Wagon

• Prosecutor Brian Decker dismissed murder case two weeks after a judge ordered one of Anthony Wagon‘s interrogations be suppressed
• A judge suppressed Det. Jason Solomon‘s interrogation, where Wagon allegedly admitted to running down Jeremy Beard
• Wagon spent over three years in jail after initially being released on bond

See the case write-up

AZTEC, N.M. — A prosecutor dismissed the murder case against Anthony Wagon, 23, three weeks after a judge suppressed Wagon’s interrogation by a Farmington detective, and three years after a judge ordered him held without bail pending trial.

Anthony Wagon

San Juan County District Attorney’s Office prosecutor Brian Decker filed the nolle prosequi dismissing the case on June 23, 2020, after District Court Judge Daylene Marsh suppressed Farmington Det. Jason Solomon‘s interrogation of Wagon following Jeremy Beard’s death on April 24, 2017.

After Marsh suppressed the statement on June 2, 2020, in which Wagon allegedly said he ran down Beard after being tackled by him during a fight over a beer, Decker immediately filed an appeal.

Marsh wrote, in her order suppressing his statements to Solomon, that he was never read his rights. His attorney, Craig Acorn, also made the argument that Wagon was too drunk to consent to an interrogation, but her decision made his intoxication a moot point.

“The inadequacy of the advisement of rights requires the exclusion from use at trial of Defendant’s statement to Detective Solomon and whether Defendant knowingly and intelligently waived his rights has become moot,” Marsh wrote.

Marsh cited State v Serna, a Court of Appeals case from 2018. In that case, the Appeals Court found that a Miranda warning requires “that a person be warned, at least implicitly, that they have a right to counsel prior to questioning.” In the case of Ernest Serna, Sandoval Sheriff’s Deputy Sal Tortorici, reciting a Miranda warning from memory, told Serna he had a right to an attorney during questioning. The court found this to be “inadequate.”

While Solomon never read Wagon his rights, Det. Chris Stanton and Sgt. Travis Spruell did after they illegally seized him from the Navajo Nation.

On June 4, 2020, Decker filed a motion to dismiss his appeal and for Marsh to reconsider her suppression order.

He wrote that Stanton read Wagon the correct Miranda warning and that, when he testified during a motion hearing, it was from memory and not the card he carried. Marsh granted his motion and set a hearing for July 7, 2020.

On June 23, Decker dismissed the case, writing it was in the “best interest of justice.”

Prosecutor Dustin O’Brien told the Farmington Daily Times that “the district court followed what is mandated by state law and the Farmington Police Department was issuing Miranda warnings consistent with law at the time.”

Police Spokeswoman Nicole Brown told the Daily Times that the case was “dismissed pending further investigation” following Marsh’s ruling and that the police department “is still pursuing and investigating the incident.”

Wagon was initially released on a bond following his arraignment in magistrate court but after the case was bound over, former district judge John Dean ordered Wagon held without bail on May 26, 2017.

Dean wrote in his order that Wagon’s step-mother testified against him, as did Solomon.

“Based on the testimony of Tina Wagon, Defendant’s step-mother, Mr. Wagon has a history of anger issues than can cumulate (sic) in aggression and violence — particularly when Defendant does not get his way,” Dean wrote. “In fact, Ms. Wagon testified that Mr. Wagon one time became so upset he shoved her and caused her to fall.”

Dean wrote that Wagon “fled through a non-direct path” to his parent’s home on the reservation, that that he was “indifferent to the consequences of his actions” and that Wagon was a danger to the community.

A civil case filed by Beard’s father is still pending as is a battery on a peace officer case stemming from Wagon’s three years in jail.

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