John Lodgepole: Michaelene Warren — 8-1-2019



On Aug. 1, 2019, John Lodgepole allegedly went to the house of a woman he knew in Nenahnezad, near Fruitland, and became verbally abusive toward her and Michaelene Warren, 43. Later that night he allegedly came back, threw the Warren to the ground and kicked her in the head multiple times. He staved the back of her head in with a cinderblock and beat her ankles with a cane, according to the plea deal. Investigators found a bloody bat near the scene, according to an affidavit for a criminal complaint.

San Juan County Sheriff’s deputies found Lodgepole in the parking lot of a chapter house across the street from the house, covered in blood. He was initially charged with murder, according to the complaint. The case was sealed, despite Lodgepole’s arrest, according to the court docket.

On Oct. 9, 2019, a federal grand jury indicted Lodgepole on a charge of voluntary manslaughter and he was arraigned on Oct. 25. The case was unsealed a day earlier.

On Nov. 3, 2020, Lodgepole pleaded guilty to a single count of voluntary manslaughter. The plea deal sets his sentence at 6 to 8 years, if District Judge James Parker accepts it at sentencing. Sentencing was set for 3 p.m., April 14, 2021. That date was vacated on April 2, with no reason listed, and no new hearing has has been set.

(Note: This story has been updated to reflect the victim’s name)

The incident

San Juan County Sheriff’s deputies responded on Aug. 1, 2019, to a house south of the Chapter House in Nenahnezad, after the owner called 911, Federal Bureau of Investigations Agent Jordan Spaeth wrote in an affidavit for a criminal complaint.

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

The homeowner, identified by her initials of E.L., told deputies she was drinking with the Michaelene Warren, identified in court documents as M.W. (YOB: 1975) or Jane Doe, when John Lodgepole threw Warren to the ground and started kicking her in the head, he wrote.

“Lodgepole then fled the residence and E.L. contacted 911,” Spaeth wrote. “Deputies were notified a short time after arrival that Jane Doe was pronounced dead at the scene by Emergency Medical Personnel.”

Deputies found Lodgepole in the parking lot of the chapter house. He was covered in blood, he wrote.

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

When investigators spoke to E.L., she said Lodgepole arrived at the house earlier that night and was verbally abusive toward her and Warren. As the night went on, he threw Warren to the ground and kicked her in the head.

Outside the house, investigators found a bloody metal baseball bat and shoe prints near where Warren’s body was found and resembled the soles of Lodgepole’s shoes.

The field investigator with the Office of the Medical Investigator found three wounds to Warren’s head, including one that likely fractured her skull.

Spaeth charged Lodgepole with murder.

San Juan County Sheriff’s Corporal C. Decker wrote in an incident report that medics found Warren was dead when they arrived and it appeared brain matter coming out of the side of her head.

The woman at the house kept telling Decker that “he wouldn’t stop kicking her,” then went to find Lodgepole at the Chapter House, Decker wrote.

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

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

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

Autopsy report

Pathologist Lori Proe and trainee Karen Zeigler wrote in the autopsy report that Warren died from blunt head trauma.

“There were broken skull bones, bleeding around the brain, bruises of the brain and swelling of the brain,” they wrote. “Other injuries included scrapes and bruises of the extremities and scrapes of the torso.”

Her blood-alcohol content was 0.25.


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

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

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

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

Court delays

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

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

Plea deal

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

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

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

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

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

Why voluntary manslaughter?

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

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

Lodgepole was initially charged with murder by Spaeth.

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

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

In the plea deal, Lodgepole said he took the cinderblock he used to bash in the back of Warren’s head, 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.

Sentencing date set

Lodgepole 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.

Sentenced to seven years

District Judge Kea Riggs sentenced Lodgepole, 22, to seven years in prison for killing Michealene Warren, 43, of Nenahnezad, during a virtual hearing on Tuesday, Aug. 24, 2021. Lodgepole will spend an additional three years on supervised probation after he is released from prison.

Ruiz-Velez asked for seven years in prison while, according to the minutes, Lodgepole’s attorney, Melissa Morris, asked for six years.

According to the sentencing minutes, Lodgepole addressed the judge, as did Warren’s sister, Miracle Yellowman. What she said is not memorialized in the minutes. His entire sentencing hearing took just 27 minutes. Lodgepole did not physically appear for his hearing.

A restitution hearing is set for 9:30 a.m., Nov. 16, 2021 in Albuquerque.

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See the case documents on Google Drive or Document Cloud

Past stories

John Lodgepole sentenced to 7 years for brutal beating death of Michaelene Warren

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

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

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

Man set to plea in Nenahnezad beating death

Trial in Nenahnezad beating death postponed for third time

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