Kirtland Man Pleads Guilty to Second-Degree Murder Charge Arising from Kidnapping and Murder of a Navajo Woman and an Assault Charge in a Separate Case
ALBUQUERQUE—A Navajo man who resides in Kirtand, N.M., entered guilty pleas today in federal court in Albuquerque, N.M., in two cases. Patrick Benally, 26, pled guilty to a second degree murder charge arising out of the kidnapping and murder of a Navajo woman. He also entered a guilty plea to an assault charge in a separate, unrelated case.
Patrick Benally and his four co-defendants, Justin Benally, 26, of Farmington, N.M., LaSheena Jacquez, 27, of Kirtland, Scott Thompson, 28 of Farmington, and Mariah Benally, 22, of Kirtland, all enrolled members of the Navajo Nation, were indicted in Jan. 2014, on criminal charges arising from the kidnapping and murder of a 28-year-old Navajo woman on Oct. 23, 2013. The indictment charged all five defendants with first degree murder, kidnapping, and conspiracy to kidnap. It also charged Justin Benally, Mariah Benally, Jacquez and Thompson with harboring Patrick Benally to prevent his arrest on charges arising out of an assault that was unrelated to the kidnapping and murder case. The crimes charged in the indictment occurred on the Navajo Indian Reservation within San Juan County, N.M. All five defendants previously had been arrested in Dec. 2013, on a criminal complaint filed after law enforcement authorities received information that the victim, who was missing in Nov. 2013, had been murdered. The victim’s remains were recovered on Dec. 9, 2013.
All four of Benally’s co-defendants have entered guilty pleas to second degree murder charges. Justin Benally, Mariah Benally and Jacquez pled guilty in Oct. and Nov. 2014, and Thompson entered a guilty plea in March 2015. All four have been in federal custody since they were arrested and remain detained pending their sentencing hearings, which have yet to be scheduled. Each faces a maximum statutory penalty of life imprisonment.
During today’s plea hearing, Patrick Benally pleaded guilty to a felony information charging him with second degree murder. In his plea agreement, Benally admitted that he caused the death of the victim by aiding and abetting others in the death of Jane Doe by preventing a witness from the leaving the scene of the murder, preventing the same witness from providing aid to Jane Doe, and preventing the same witness from reporting the crime by intimidating her at the scene.
Patrick Benally also pled guilty to an assault with a dangerous weapon charge in a separate case. In Oct. 2013, Patrick Benally was charged by criminal complaint with assault and firearms charges arising out of an Oct. 10, 2015 incident during which he shot a different Navajo woman in the face. Patrick Benally subsequently was indicted in this case in Jan. 2014, and was charged with assault with a dangerous weapon, assault resulting in serious bodily injury, and discharging a firearm during a crime of violence. According to court filings, Patrick Benally shot the victim in the face during an argument in the victim’s home in Fruitland, N.M.
Under the terms of his plea agreement, Patrick Benally will be sentenced to a federal prison term within the range of 18 to 21 years followed by a period of supervised release to be determined by the court. He remains detained pending a sentencing hearing, which has yet to be scheduled.
The kidnapping and murder case was investigated by the Farmington office of the FBI, the Farmington Police Department and the San Juan County Sheriff’s Office. The assault case was investigated by the Farmington office of the FBI and the Shiprock office of the Navajo Nation Division of Public Safety. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Niki Tapia-Brito and David Adams are prosecuting both cases.
These cases were brought pursuant to 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.