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”

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

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

See the case write-up

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

Shiprock. Photo by Mobilus In Mobili/Flickr

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jaros opposed Bustamante’s request.

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

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

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

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

No further hearings are scheduled.

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

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

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

Jansen Peshlakai requests release because of the coronavirus after competency determination

See the case write-up

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

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

Shiprock Pinnacle. Photo by DiAnn L’Roy/Flickr

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cibola County Detention Center badge
Cibola County Detention Center badge

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

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

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

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

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

Shiprock man pleads guilty to second-degree murder for killing fellow Navajo Nation man

  • Prosecutor David Cowen’s binding plea deal mandates a 15-year sentence for Zachariah Joe
  • The magistrate judge deferred acceptance of the plea until the “final disposition hearing”
  • No sentencing hearing has been set

See the full case summary

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — A 28-year-old Shiprock man pleaded guilty to second-degree murder, Oct. 31, 2019, for the stabbing death of a 32-year-old Navajo Nation tribal member at the beginning of the year.

Shiprock Pinnacle. Photo by DiAnn L’Roy/Flickr

Zachariah Joe pleaded guilty in federal Magistrate Court in Albuquerque to a criminal information charging him with second-degree murder, according to court documents.

According to the plea deal, Joe admitted killed Brett Micah Morgan by stabbing him 10 times in the chest and neck on Jan. 3, 2019.

The plea deal, signed off on by federal prosecutor David Cowen, states Joe would only receive a 15-year sentence, although any time spent on supervised release after serving a prison sentence would be up to the sentencing judge.

According to the minutes from the plea hearing, Magistrate Judge Kirtan Khalsa accepted the plea but deferred final acceptance to the “final disposition hearing” in front of a district court judge.

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

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.

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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, 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.

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

Zachariah Stanley Joe: Brett Micah Morgan — 1-3-2019

 

Summary

Zachariah Joe first attacked Brett Micah Morgan after visiting with him and another man at a house in Shiprock. After being tackled to the ground, he locked Morgan and the other man, only identified in court documents as B.M., out of the house. He then found a kitchen knife and stabbed Morgan 10 times in the chest and neck, killing him, according to court records.

Joe pleaded guilty on Oct. 31, 2019 to a single charge of second-degree murder, according to court records.

The binding plea deal states he will receive a sentence of 15 years. However, the magistrate judge in the case has deferred acceptance of the plea agreement until sentencing by a district court judge.

No more hearings have been set in the case.

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The incident

Shiprock. Photo by Bowie Snodgrass/Flickr

On Jan. 3, 2019, Zachariah Stanley Joe, 28, showed up at a house where Brett Micah 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.

Roundy referred to Morgan in court documents initially as “B.M.M.,” then by “John Doe.” The other identifiers Roundy included were Morgan’s year of birth, 1986, and that he was a Navajo Nation tribal member, as is Joe.

Although Roundy only identified Morgan as “B.M.M.” in court documents, he was identified in his obituary in the Farmington Daily Times. In additional to the correct initials, his obituary states he was born in 1986 and he died on Jan. 3, 2019, all details that match with Roundy’s affidavit. The obituary has been archived here via the Internet Archive and here as a PDF.

Roundy wrote someone interviewed B.M., who said Joe had been texting with Morgan while Morgan and B.M. drank at a Shiprock house. During the evening, Joe texted Morgan that he left work, at Burger King, and wanted to come over.

When Joe showed up, he was drunk and upset about being fired, Roundy wrote.

“Joe continued his tirade about losing his job throughout the evening and at one point, JOE violently struck John Doe in the face with the back of his hand, sending John Doe back towards the wood burning stove,” Roundy wrote, citing the interview with B.M.

Joe tried to attack the prone victim but B.M. punched Joe several times in the head and wrestled him to the ground long enough for Morgan and B.M. to get of the house. Joe locked the door from the inside. Morgan and B.M. could hear him searching through kitchen drawers and cabinets in a “violent” manner, Roundy wrote.

“B.M. then became upset feeling that his home was being invaded, and subsequently ran to the known residence of JOE and broke a window,” Roundy wrote. “B.M. then returned to his residence approximately five minutes later and found John Doe on the ground just outside the door bleeding.”

Joe was standing over Morgan. At some point two other people, identified as “D.T.” and “V.B.” arrived and drove Morgan to the hospital. Navajo police then arrested B.M. for breaking Joe’s window.

Roundy wrote that the Office of the Medical Investigator found that Morgan suffered from 10 “puncture and/or laceration wounds.” He was pronounced dead at the Northern Navajo Medical Center.

Roundy wrote that someone interviewed D.T., who said that he arrived at the house with V.B. and saw Joe kicking Morgan on the ground, outside the house. D.T. got out of the car and pushed Joe back from Morgan, saw he was unresponsive and heard Joe say that Morgan “was stabbed.”

D.T. then kept Joe at a distance and tried to get Morgan to his feet but realized he was bleeding, put him in a car and drove him to the hospital, he wrote.

D.T., who also lived at the house, later realized a kitchen knife was missing from a drawer, Roundy wrote.

V.B. said during an interview that when she arrived with D.T., she did not notice anything in Joe’s hands.

In the plea deal, Joe attested that he initially hit Morgan. B.M. threw Joe down, but eventually Joe locked them out of the house.

“I located a knife in the residence and armed myself with it,” the plea deal states. “A short time later, I exited the residence and confronted John Doe. I started a fight with John Doe and I stabbed John Doe with the knife approximately 10 times in his chest, side and neck.”

In the plea, he admitted that his stabbing caused Morgan’s death.

“While I stabbed John Doe, he begged for me to stop, but I did not,” the plea deal states. “In doing so, I acted with callous and wanton disregard for human life.”

The U.S. Attorney’s Office for New Mexico only published a press release on the case after Joe pleaded guilty and did not publish one after he was arrested.

The Farmington Daily Times first broke the story on January 14, 2019. Joe was charged on Jan. 4.

Below is the affidavit for a criminal complaint filed by Roundy.

 

D.N.M._1_19-cr-03746-JB_1_0 - Zachariah Joe affidavit for CC

 

Plea and possible sentence

On Oct. 31, 2019, Joe pleaded guilty to second-degree murder, before he was indicted by a grand jury. He previously waived his right to a preliminary hearing, on Jan. 9.

Magistrate Judge Kirtan Khalsa deferred acceptance of the plea agreement, according to the plea hearing minutes for the Oct. 31 hearing

The case had been continued multiple times because the prosecution and Joe’s defense attorney, Melissa Morris, were trying to reach a plea in “pre-indictment negotiations,” according to the docket and an Aug. 16 motion to continue the grand jury presentment. The plea was also signed by federal prosecutor David Cowen.

The plea agreement states Joe will receive a sentence of 15 years, although the sentencing judge can decide how much, if any, time Joe should spend on supervised release after serving his sentence. She can also levy a fine.

According to the plea, the possible maximum sentence for second-degree murder is life imprisonment.

The plea agreement states the 15-year sentence considers Joe’s acceptance of responsibility and that 15 years is the “appropriate disposition.”

In the plea agreement, Joe attested that he locked Morgan and B.M. out of the house, he found a knife and then confronted Morgan.

“I started a fight with John Doe and I stabbed John Doe with the knife approximately 10 times in his chest, side and neck. These stab wounds caused John Doe’s death. While I stabbed John Doe, he begged for me to stop, but I did not. In doing so, I acted with callous and wanton disregard for human life.”

Court documents give no indication of future court dates.

See all the documents on Google Drive or view the case and documents on Court Listener.

Jansen Peshlakai: Dakota Whitehat — 7-13-2018

 

Summary

On July 13, 2018, Jansen Peshlakai allegedly ran over Dakota Whitehat, 20, after some kind of domestic dispute with his wife, on BIA/Navajo/Indian Services Route 13 near Shiprock and Mitten Rock.

He was not charged until three months later when a grand jury indicted him for second-degree murder on Oct. 2, 2018.

In February 2019, his case was placed on hold for a competency evaluation. He was initially found to not be competent, sent to a facility for rehabilitation, and found to be competent on March 20, 2020.

No hearings have been scheduled.

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The incident

On July 13, 2018, Dakota Whitehat, 20, was walking down U.S. Highway 491, near Shiprock, when a car picked him up. After turning onto Indian Services Route/BIA Route/Navajo Route 13, the driver stopped because Jansen Peshlakai and his wife appeared to be in a physical fight, according to a deputy field investigation by Barbara Nabors.

Shiprock Pinnacle. Photo by DiAnn L’Roy/Flickr

“Per law enforcement, both the man and the woman of the parked vehicle became aggressive towards the occupants of vehicle one,” Nabors wrote. “For unknown reasons the decedent began walking eastbound on the opposite side of the road.”

Peshlakai allegedly turned his car around and ran down Whitehat, who was 15 to 20 feet off the highway, she wrote.

Federal prosecutor Allison Jaros wrote in an opposition to Peshlakai’s appeal of his detention that the woman, Peshlakai’s wife, was yelling “Help me! Help me!” when Whitehat, and the people who picked him up, came onto the scene.

Jaros’ account differs from that of Nabors, based on what police initially told her.

The man who picked up Whitehat in his truck earlier on the road offered the wife a ride, Jaros wrote.

Whitehat is referred to as “John Doe” in court documents.

According to Jaros:

“She got into the truck to leave,  which angered the defendant. The defendant got into his vehicle, a brown SUV, and drove across the road to where the white truck was parked. The defendant rammed the white truck. Next, the defendant ran over John Doe who was outside the vehicle on foot.”

Several witnesses, including other motorists who stopped, told investigators that Peshlakai allegedly did not try to swerve or slow down to avoid running over Whitehat, Jaros wrote.

“At the time of the collision, it was light outside,” she wrote. “John Doe died from his injuries later that day.”

Peshlakai had been drinking prior to allegedly running over Whitehat, she wrote.

“The defendant’s dangerousness is exacerbated by his alcohol abuse,” she wrote. “The defendant has been charged with alcohol related offenses on at least ten different occasions. He has convictions for public drunkenness and driving under the influence.”

In 2016, he was convicted of assault and battery with a dangerous weapon, she wrote.

Specifically, he was drinking and driving without a driver’s license when he allegedly killed Whitehat, she wrote.

Below is the approximate location of the alleged attack.

Court proceedings

Indictment

In a motion for release, Peshlakai’s attorney, Edward Bustamante, of Albuquerque, wrote that Peshlakai was initially charged in state court and those charges were dropped after he was indicted federally.

According to a search of public state court records, no arrest appears to have been recorded.

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

On Oct. 2, 2018, a federal grand jury indicted Peshlakai on a charge of second-degree murder, although it would not be entered into the court record until Oct. 11, 2018.

Peshlakai immediately retained Farmington attorney Adam Bell once he learned he could be charged with a crime for allegedly running down Whitehat, Bustamante wrote.

Bell then arranged for Peshlakai to surrender to police in Farmington, he wrote.

According to the docket, he surrendered on Dec. 6, 2018 and Bustamante was appointed as his attorney.

On Dec. 13, 2018, federal Magistrate Judge Laura Fashing ordered Peshlakai held without bail. The minutes only contain the notations that the prosecution, defense spoke and that “Officer Galaz” told Fashing of the resources available at a halfway house.

On Jan. 10, 2019, Bustamante appealed the Fashing’s order.

Peshlakai suffered a “serious closed head injury” in 2013, which require him to “ingest a battery of medications to prevent ongoing seizures,” Bustamante wrote.

Before being arrested by agents with the Federal Bureau of Investigations, Peshlakai was scheduled to meet with multiple doctors about his brain injury.

“Subsequent to surrendering federal authorities Mr. Peshlakai has suffered a disruption in his prescribed medications,” Bustamante wrote. “The disruption in prescribed medication is causing at a minimum elevated anxiety in Mr. Peshlakai which in turn exacerbates Mr. Peshlakai’s closed head injury.”

Fashing “expressed concerns” about Peshlakai getting his medication when she ordered him held without bail. Release to a halfway house in Albuquerque would mean he could resume his medical treatment, he wrote.

On Jan. 28, 2019, District Court Judge Scott Skavdahl denied his motion for release, following a hearing the same day.

Competency

On Feb. 7, 2019, Jaros filed a motion to have Peshlakai evaluated for his competency, an issue because of his 2013 head injury.

When Bell was representing Peshlakai, he told prosecutors that he thought his client was not competent to stand trial, she wrote.

She attached a letter given to her by Bell, from one of his doctors, Garett Riggs, of the Northern Navajo Medical Center.

“Mr. Peshlaki’s (sic) injury affected both frontal lobes of the brain leading to impairments of judgement, planning, and complex decision making,” Riggs wrote.”He requires 24/7 supervision for safety, medication administration, food preparation, and assistant with basic daily activities.”

Bustamante wrote in a motion to have Peshlakai released, because of the coronavirus pandemic, that Peshlakai was evaluated at a facility in Colorado and found incompetent to proceed on June 14, 2019. He was committed to a Federal Bureau of Prisons facility to be returned to competency.

On March 20, 2020, a facility in North Carolina concluded that Peshlakai was competent to proceed to trial and he was returned to New Mexico on April 17, 2020, to the Cibola County Correctional Center in Milan.

Jaros wrote in a response to Bustamante’s motion that his condition has improved since he was initially arrested “likely due to his forced sobriety.”

“The most recent evidence regarding Defendant’s mental state indicates that Defendant has recovered well from his head injury and that his epilepsy is currently under control,” she wrote.

A Bureau of Prisons psychologist wrote that his brain has recovered “well” from the injury and his “current cognitive profile does not reflect evidence of brain injury,” Jaros wrote.

Release request amid coronavirus

On April 20, 2020, Bustamante filed a motion for an expedited hearing to have Peshlakai released because of the threat of the coronavirus.

Peshlakai is an at-risk detainee because of his permanent closed head injury and all his medications, he wrote.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Release request denied

District Judge Judith Herrera held a hearing on June 4, 2020, and denied Peshlakai’s request for release.

According to minutes from the June 4, 2020 hearing, conducted via Zoom, Bustamante asked for his client to be released to the third-party custody of his sister in Oklahoma.

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Jerome Dayzie: Marvin Johnson — 12-9-2017

 

Summary

On Dec. 9, 2017, Jerome Dayzie was driving back from Colorado to his home in Round Rock, Ariz, with his wife, identified as Terra Dayzie, and a friend, Marvin Johnson, 37. Jerome Dayzie, who had a blood-alcohol content of 0.196, crashed into the back of a parked trailer on the side of the road. Johnson was ejected and died at the scene, according to court records.

Jerome Dayzie was initially arrested and charged with involuntary manslaughter, according to court records.

On April 16, 2018, he pleaded guilty to the same charge and on Feb. 26, 2019, District Judge Martha Vazquez sentenced him to the minimum under the sentencing guidelines, just over three years, despite four previous convictions for DUI, according to court records.

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The incident

On Dec. 9, 2017, Jerome Dayzie was driving on BIA/Indian Services/Navajo Route 13, toward his home in Round Rock, Ariz, with his wife and the victim, Marvin Johnson, 37, FBI Agent Kalon Fancher wrote in an affidavit for an arrest warrant.

Butte off of U.S. Highway 191 near Roundrock, Ariz. Photo by Seth Graham/Flickr. CC-BY-NC-ND
Butte off of U.S. Highway 191 near Roundrock, Ariz. Photo by Seth Graham/Flickr. CC-BY-NC-ND

They had driven to Cortez, Colo., to buy beer at the G-Whil liquor store. There, they bought three cases of St. Ides malt liquor, all in 40-ounce bottles. St. Ides has an ABV, or alcohol by volume, of 8.2 percent. They were sharing the liquor as they drove back to Arizona and Jerome Dayzie estimated he drank a whole bottle by himself, he told Fancher in an interrogation, according to Fancher’s affidavit.

Jerome Dayzie said Johnson was the one who wanted to go, Fancher wrote.

After he turned off Highway 491 and onto BIA/Indian Services/Navajo Route 13, the sun was in his face and a car was heading toward him. A trailer was parked “half on the road,” Fancher wrote, summarizing his interview with Jerome Dayzie.

“He stated ‘it’s either I hit the other vehicle or I hit the trailer,'” Fancher wrote. “He stated he hit the end of the trailer and flipped right over.”

According to a sentencing memorandum, his blood-alcohol content was 0.196.

Johnson was in the back seat of Jerome Dayzie’s Ford Explorer when he was ejected from the vehicle.

Jerome Dayzie’s wife, Terra Dayzie (identified as T.D. or Jane Doe-1 in some court records), said Jerome Dayzie drank about half of a 40-ounce bottle, Fancher wrote.

Fancher wrote:

“JANE DOE-1 stated she fell asleep and woke up when DAYZIE hit the back of a trailer parked along the side of the road. JANE DOE-1 stated (V-1) flipped over. She stated JOHN DOE-1 was thrown out of (V-1) and she tried to wake him up but he was not responding.”

When law enforcement arrived, they declared him dead at the scene, he wrote.

In a sentencing memorandum, prosecutor Raquel Ruiz-Velez wrote that the flatbed trailer Jerome Dayzie hit was loaded with furniture.

After crashing into the rear, Jerome Dayzie’s Ford Explorer flipped. Johnson was ejected and pinned under the driver’s side, Ruiz-Velez wrote.

One witness, behind Jerome Dayzie, said his car had been swerving from side to side before it hit the trailer, rolled, and landed on the driver’s side, she wrote.

The owner of the trailer said he and his son were driving to Arizona when they noticed the straps holding the furniture down seemed to be loose. They pulled to the side of the road to check the straps before Jerome Dayzie crashed into the back of the trailer, Ruiz-Velez wrote.

In an amended sentencing memorandum, Jerome Dayzie’s attorney, federal public defender John Butcher, wrote that the trio were “bootlegging” alcohol to the reservation.

According to a deputy field investigation by Tiffany Keaton, with the Office of the Medical Investigator, witnesses told law enforcement that the Explorer “clipped” the left corner of the trailer, causing the trailer to “fork” to the left. The explorer then flipped one and a half times. Johnson was ejected out the passenger-side window before it landed on him. He was not wearing a seat belt.

“Witnesses, were able to pull the vehicle off of Marvin Johnson,” Keaton wrote.

According to the autopsy report, Johnson died from blunt chest trauma.

Fancher filed the for the arrest warrant two days after the crash, on Dec. 11., 2017.

Court proceedings

Pre-trial release

Jerome Dayzie pleaded not guilty, waived a preliminary hearing and a grand jury presentment on Dec. 15, 2017, and federal Magistrate Judge Steven Yarbrough released him to the La Pasada Halfway House in Albuquerque, according to the docket and a response by Ruiz-Velez to a motion to allow Jerome Dayzie to speak to his wife, Terra Dayzie.

Among the conditions of release, Jerome Dayzie was prohibited from speaking to any of the witnesses, his wife included.

Ruiz-Velez wrote that she opposed letting Jerome Dayzie talk to his wife “to assure the integrity of the judicial proceedings against the Defendant.”

In a reply to Ruiz-Velez’s response, Butcher wrote his client had a legitimate need to talk to his wife.

“As mentioned in his Motion, they have four children and a home together,” Butcher wrote. “Thus, there is a need to coordinate the care of the children as well as the household finances.”

According to Fancher’s affidavit, Terra Dayzie told investigators that she fell asleep during the drive and only woke up as the crash was happening.

Yarbrough granted the motion over Ruiz-Velez’s objections.

Plea

On April 16, 2018, after repeatedly waiving his right to a grand jury presentment, Jerome Dayzie pleaded guilty to a criminal information charging him with involuntary manslaughter in front of Magistrate Judge Laura Fashing, who accepted the plea.

According to the plea deal, Jerome Dayzie admitted to killing Johnson while driving drunk.

The plea agreement contained agreement as to the sentence, other than that he was entitled to a reduction of two levels in the federal sentencing guidelines because he pleaded guilty.

Sentencing arguments

Ruiz-Velez wrote in a sentencing memorandum, dated Feb. 7, 2019, that Jerome Dayzie should be sentenced to the high end of the guidelines for his crime, 46 months, or just under four years.

She wrote that he had an offense level of 19 and a criminal history category of III, resulting in a guideline sentence range of 37 months (just over 3 years) to 46 months.

Shiprock. Photo by Bowie Snodgrass/Flickr

She wrote that his blood-alcohol content was extremely high, at 0.196, over double the legal per se limit of 0.08.

His criminal history included five prior arrests for DUI, four of which resulted in convictions, although only two of those were considered to calculate his criminal history category.

“It is troubling that Defendant was sentenced for these two convictions on June 21, 2016 and January 12, 2017, less than two years before the instant offense,” Ruiz-Velez wrote. “Defendant’s convictions show that he was aware of the illegality of his conduct when he decided to drive his vehicle while under the influence of alcohol on December 9, 2017.”

His “past conduct” endangered the lives of others, including his 15-year-old son, she wrote.

Butcher wrote in his own initial sentencing memorandum that Johnson was not a stranger to his killer.

“He was a friend and family member,” Butcher wrote. “The three were drinking together. The alcohol found at the accident was due to the fact that the group was bootlegging alcohol back to the reservation.”

Butcher then wrote that they, as friends, went out drinking together.

“Unfortunately, they decided to drive home while intoxicated,” Butcher wrote. “Mr. Dayzie recognizes the loss caused by John Doe’s death.”

Jerome Dayzie is an electrician and is trying to get the licenses needed to “improve his employment,” although he is currently employed as such.

Butcher wrote:

“More importantly, Mr. Dayzie has taken his drug and alcohol treatment extremely serious. As the Court is aware, Mr. Dayzie has a long history of substance abuse. The defendant has remained totally sober while on Pretrial Conditions of Release. He understands now that when he drinks alcohol, ‘bad things tends to happen.'”

Butcher initially asked for a sentence of two years, which he called a mistake. In an amended sentencing memorandum, Butcher asked for a sentence of 37 months (just over 3 years).

Sentencing

According to the docket and a sentencing minutes sheet, on Feb. 26, 2019, federal District Judge Martha Vazquez sentenced Jerome Dayzie to 37 months, the minimum sentence under the guidelines and the amount requested by his defense attorney.

The minutes do not contain any information about the reasoning behind the judge’s decision.

According to the minutes, Vazquez addressed Jerome Dayzie and then Johnson’s family members addressed Vazquez.

Although Ruiz-Velez was the prosecutor on the case, according to the sentencing minutes, she did not attend or argue for the sentence she requested at his sentencing hearing. Instead, prosecutor Novaline Wilson attended the hearing. Court documents do not state why she was missing.

Jerome Dayzie then spoke to the judge, and then the judge spoke to him again and imposed the sentence, according to the minutes.

She also ordered he pay $1,592.97 to the New Mexico Crime Victim Reparation Commission and $2,448.72 to Johnson’s sister.

In March 2020, Vazquez sentenced another man, Tavis Washburn, to the minimum sentence in different drunk driving case that killed someone. She sentenced Washburn to the minimum allowed under his plea, just under six years, for a crash that killed his brother and severely injured his 2-year-old son. She was not allowed to sentence him to less under his plea.