- Suspect: Trudy Martinez
- Victim: Cornelia McCabe, 36
- Charges: Open count of murder pleaded down to voluntary manslaughter
- Status: Guilty plea to voluntary manslaughter with a firearm enhancement
- Date of incident: April 26, 2019
- Investigative agencies: Federal Bureau of Investigations
- Location: Twin Lakes, McKinley County, Navajo Nation
- Relationship to victim: Sister-in-law
- Federal Magistrate case number: 19-mj-01109
- Federal District case number: 20-cr-00972
- Prosecutor: Thomas Aliberti
- Prosecuting agency: U.S. Attorney’s Office
- Defense attorney: Alonzo Padilla
- Defense attorney: Irma Rivas
- Plea judge (magistrate): Paul Briones
- Sentencing judge (district): William Johnson
On April 26, 2019, Trudy Martinez fatally shot her sister-in-law, Cornelia McCabe, 36, in the abdomen with an AR-15 before fleeing with her children, according to court documents. On May 9, FBI agents arrested her in Gallup on a murder warrant.
On March 16, 2020, Martinez pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter and a firearms enhancement. There is no agreement as to the sentence, although it can only be between 10 and 15 years. Ten years is the minimum for the firearms enhancement and 15 is the maximum for voluntary manslaughter. Sentencing was set for Nov. 30, 2020, but was cancelled and has not been reset.
On April 26, 2019, Trudy Martinez, 28, of Twin Lakes, allegedly shot her sister-in-law, identified in court documents as McCabe, 36, once in the abdomen with an AR-15 assault-style rifle in her Twin Lakes home, Federal Bureau of Investigations Agent Jeffrey Wright wrote in an affidavit for an arrest warrant dated April 30.
Investigators talked to McCabe’s daughter who told them she came home from school and saw Martinez outside the house, cleaning up the yard, before she went into the house, Wright wrote.
“She was upset and complained that no one was helping her clean,” Wright wrote. “DOE was inside watching over her children. C.M. observed MARTINEZ enter the home and push Doe. The two began to have a physical altercation. Martinez yelled at DOE and DOE’s children to leave the house.”
McCabe saw Martinez walk outside and get the carbine from a truck parked nearby. Martinez allegedly brought it into the house and loaded it, he wrote.
“DOE attempted to take the rifle away from Martinez,” Wright wrote. “As DOE approached MARTINEZ at the entrance to the Hogan, MARTINEZ pointed the rifle at DOE and fired the weapon two times. The first round missed DOE, but the second round struck DOE in the abdomen, after which DOE fell to the floor.”
Martinez allegedly pointed the gun at the girl and yelled something at her. She ran next door to her grandmother’s house and the girl’s aunt, referred to as E.T., went back to the house with her to take care of McCabe, he wrote.
In her own interview, E.T. told investigators that she was at her house making jewelry with her husband. Sometime during the evening, one of the children ran to her and said that “Trudy shot my mom,” he wrote.
“The children explained that their mother (DOE) was laying on the floor in her house,” Wright wrote. “E.T. did not hear a gunshot, but noted that music was playing while she worked on the jewelry.”
When she went to the neighboring house, McCabe was sitting against a bed, awake and talking, he wrote.
“DOE stated ‘Trudy shot me,'” he wrote. “DOE than said that she needed to go to the hospital.”
E.T. told investigators that Martinez was in the attached home, shouting “What the fuck are you looking at?!” Wright wrote.
“She then stated to E.T., ‘she was beating me up,'” he wrote. “MARTINEZ explained to E.T. the altercation originated with the trash.”
E.T. then told other family members to get the truck, which they drove to McCabe’s house. They loaded her into it and drove to the gas station in Tolikai to meet the ambulance, he wrote.
“E.T. noted that approximately two weeks prior to the shooting, MARTINEZ was outside her home shooting a gun,” Wright wrote.
McCabe’s daughter also told the investigators the carbine used was the same kind that police officers were carrying at the crime scene and that Martinez would shoot the rifle at the back of the house.
That same day, investigators spoke to G.M., identified as Martinez’s brother. He told them Martinez called him after the shooting.
“MARTINEZ told G.M. that she had ‘done something wrong,'” Wright wrote. “G.M. asked MARTINEZ what was it that she had done. MARTINEZ responded that she had ‘shot Corn.’ ‘Corn’ is a nickname used by DOE.”
Martinez’s niece, K.M., said she had previously talked to Martinez about the AR-15 and that she had posted a photo of herself holding it on Facebook.
While Wright only applied for arrest warrant on April 30, 2019, the following day, the FBI offered a $1,000 reward for information on Martinez’s whereabouts.
FBI spokesman Frank Fisher wrote that Martinez fled from the scene of the killing with her children, a 10-year-old girl, a 9-year-old girl and a 5-year-old boy.
“She should be considered armed and dangerous,” Fisher wrote.
FBI agents arrested her in Gallup on May 9, 2019, according to a press release.
Arraignment and detention
On May 14, she was ordered held without bail by federal Magistrate Judge Steven Yarbrough and she waived a preliminary hearing.
Martinez waived a preliminary hearing and grand jury presentment seven times, the last on Feb. 21, 2020.
Voluntary manslaughter carries a maximum sentence of 15 years while the firearms enhancement carries a minimum sentence of 10 years.
Federal prosecutor Thomas Aliberti signed the plea deal and and it was accepted by federal Magistrate Judge Paul Briones, although final acceptance was deferred until sentencing by a district court judge, according to the minutes.
According to the plea deal, Martinez intentionally killed McCabe during a sudden quarrel and therefore, without malice.
Martinez’s sentence is at the discretion of the sentencing judge but prosecutors agreed she is entitled to multiple reductions in the sentencing guidelines because she accepted responsibility.
Both prosecutors and Martinez’s defense attorney can argue for whatever sentence they want, according to the plea.
On April 13, 2020, Martinez’s attorney, Irma Rivas, filed an unopposed motion to push out the sentencing date because Martinez wants her pretrial interview to be in person but the coronavirus pandemic has eliminated in-person visits at the Santa Fe County Detention Center, where she is being housed.
On July 21, one of her attorneys, Alonzo Padilla, or Irma Rivas, appears to have filed a motion under seal to push out her sentencing until probation officers could interview her in person.
District Judge William Johnson admonished Padilla and wrote that Martinez has no right to an in-person interview and set sentencing in the case for 9:30 a.m., Nov. 30, 2020.
On Nov. 24, 2020, Johnson cancelled the sentencing hearing, noting that the Cibola detention center, where she is being held, has stopped doing transports for in-person court hearings.
No new sentencing date has been set.
The motion to delay Martinez’s sentencing because she wanted to be interviewed in person by probation officers appears to have been filed under seal, although the prosecution opposition to it was not, nor was the judge’s order referencing it.
Padilla did not return a request for comment and information on his presumably sealed motion.
Documents 38 and 39 appear to be sealed, as do documents 42 and 43 and the seven documents, starting with 45 and ending with 52. Johnson’s order, continuing the sentencing because of COVID-19, is document 53 and the only public document before that was 44, resetting the sentencing hearing from 9:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. on Nov. 30, 2020.
Writing in New Mexico In Depth, Jeff Proctor illuminated 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.
“Judges, not lawyers, are supposed to decide which documents are made available to the public and which should remain secret through an established protocol based in part on decades of case law: Attorneys must submit a written request asking a judge to seal records and a judge must consent before records are sealed,” Proctor wrote.
Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story referred to victim Cornelia McCabe as C.M., the initials used in court documents, because her name was not available when the story first published.