Federal Jury Convicts Jemez Pueblo Man on Felony Murder Charge
ALBUQUERQUE—A federal jury sitting in Albuquerque, N.M., returned a verdict this afternoon finding Gavin Yepa guilty on a felony murder charge after a ten-day trial, announced U.S. Attorney Damon P. Martinez and Special Agent in Charge Carol K.O. Lee of the FBI’s Albuquerque Division.
Yepa, 30, a member and resident of Jemez Pueblo, was arrested on Jan. 3, 2012, on a criminal complaint charging him with killing a 38-year-old Navajo woman during a sexual assault that took place at Yepa’s residence on Jemez Pueblo on the night of December 28, 2011. Yepa previously had been arrested on tribal charges on Dec. 28, 2011, and remained in tribal custody until his arrest on the criminal complaint.
In Jan. 2012, a federal grand jury indicted Yepa on a felony murder alleging that the victim died as the result of an aggravated sexual assault by Yepa. Trial of the case was delayed by interlocutory appeals. The trial commenced on July 27, 2015, and concluded this afternoon when the jury returned a guilty verdict on the sole charge before them.
The evidence at trial established that Yepa met the victim in San Ysidro, N.M., on the evening of Dec. 28, 2011, and took her to his residence. Shortly before midnight, Yepa contacted tribal officials and reported that there was a woman in his home who was not breathing. When Yepa escorted the officials into his residence, they observed a large amount of blood on the floor throughout the house and found the victim’s nude body, which was covered with blood, in a bedroom.
After finding the victim’s body, the tribal officials notified the Jemez Pueblo Trial Police Department who then notified the FBI. The FBI then initiated an investigation into the victim’s death. The investigation revealed that Yepa had numerous scratches and abrasions on his arms, torso and legs as well as blood on his hands, feet and clothing. Forensic investigation determined that the victim was the source of the blood on Yepa.
An examination of the victim’s body revealed that she had been brutally sexually assaulted, and the investigation revealed that a water bottle, a liquor bottle and the handle of a shovel, all of which were found at the crime scene, were used to assault her. DNA analysis confirmed that the victim’s blood was all three items.
Yepa has been in federal custody since his arrest and remains detained pending his sentencing hearing, which has yet to be scheduled. At sentencing, Yepa faces a mandatory sentence of life imprisonment.
This case was investigated by the Albuquerque office of the FBI with assistance from the Jemez Pueblo Tribal Officials, the Jemez Pueblo Tribal Police Department and the Crime Scene Unit of the New Mexico State Police. Assistant U.S. Attorney Niki Tapia-Brito and Linda Mott are prosecuting the case.
The prosecution of this case is part of the Tribal Special Assistant U.S. Attorney (Tribal SAUSA) Pilot Project in the District of New Mexico which is sponsored by the Justice Department’s Office on Violence Against Women under a grant administered by the Pueblo of Laguna. The Tribal SAUSA Pilot Project seeks to train tribal prosecutors in federal law, procedure and investigative techniques to increase the likelihood that every viable violent offense against Native women is prosecuted in either federal court or tribal court, or both. The Tribal SAUSA Pilot Project was largely driven by input gathered from annual tribal consultations on violence against women, and is another step in the Justice Department’s on-going efforts to increase engagement, coordination and action on public safety in tribal communities.