Man Who Killed Navajo Girl Gets Life Sentence, NM Senators Advocate for Nuclear Oversight

Oct 20, 2017

Killer of Navajo Nation Girl Gets Life Prison SentenceRussell Conteras, Associated Press

A man who pleaded guilty to the murder and sexual assault of an 11-year-old girl on the Navajo Nation was sentenced Friday to life in prison in a case that drew national attention over abducted Native American children.

Tom Begaye was sentenced by U.S. District Judge William P. Johnson in Albuquerque, New Mexico, for the May 2016 killing of Ashlynne Mike on the Navajo Nation.

Her abduction and killing prompted calls to expand the Amber Alert missing child notification system and the death penalty to U.S. tribal communities. The alert system has not been fully adopted.

Begaye stood motionless as Mike's mother, Pamela Foster, called him a "monster" who took away her daughter.

Prosecutors said Begaye lured Mike and her younger brother into his van after the pair got out of school.

After realizing they were in danger, the siblings "reached out discreetly and held hands" before Begaye took Mike from the van to a secluded desert area, where he raped her and killed her with a crowbar, prosecutor Niki Tapia-Brito said.

Tapia-Brito said Begaye then left the boy near the Shiprock rock formation. The boy found his way to a highway, Tapia-Brito said.

Ashlynne was reported missing, but an Amber Alert that would have sent information about missing children via cellphone messages and information to the media did not go out until the next day.

Her body was later found in an area near the Arizona-New Mexico border.

Begaye agreed in August to plead guilty and faced a mandatory life sentence without parole.

James Loonam, Begaye's lawyer, said his client is intellectually disabled and was regularly beaten as a child. That information was provided in court not as an excuse for Begaye's actions but as an effort to "make peace" and protect children in the future, Loonam said.

The death led to pending federal legislation that would expand the Amber Alert system to tribal communities and calls for Navajo Nation to end its opposition to the death penalty.

New Mexico Senators Advocate For Nuclear Oversight Board – Associated Press

Members of New Mexico's congressional delegation are pushing to ensure a federal oversight panel will have the resources it needs to continue monitoring operations at national laboratories and other nuclear sites around the country.

Sens. Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich have proposed as part of a major defense spending bill that the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board report to Congress each year on what additional resources are needed to ensure that operations at Sandia and Los Alamos labs are safe.

The board is chartered by Congress, but questions about the panel's future were raised this week after the Center for Public Integrity published a letter by the board's chairman that suggested downsizing or abolishing the panel.

The board has documented safety concerns at Los Alamos as well as other shortcomings around the nation's nuclear complex.

New Mexico Prosecutor, Insurance Company in Settlement Talks – Associated Press

A standoff over millions of dollars in insurance premium taxes could be resolved soon, now that New Mexico's attorney general and the state's largest health-care insurance provider are talking.

Attorney General Hector Balderas' office confirmed Friday the parties are in settlement discussions and look forward to resolving the case.

The attorney general's office says it hopes to avoid a lengthy court battle.

Prosecutors had accused the for-profit insurance arm of Presbyterian Healthcare Services of using an illegal accounting procedure to avoid paying millions of dollars in taxes and surcharges on insurance premiums.

The insurance subsidiary, Presbyterian Health Plan, has denied the allegations. The company has argued in court filings that state insurance regulators reviewed and approved the company's amendments to past tax payments.

Navajo Case Challenging Utah Mail-In Ballots Heads to Trial – Associated Press

A lawsuit filed by members of the Navajo Nation who say mail-in voting in southern Utah disenfranchises tribal voters is headed for trial.

U.S. District Judge Jill Parrish set a March 16 trial date on Thursday in the case challenging a 2014 switch to mail-in voting in San Juan County.

The Navajo Nation Human Rights Commission says mail-in ballots are more difficult for rural tribal voters to receive, and fewer physical polling places means it's harder to get language assistance.

San Juan County officials argue the new voting system has led to higher voter turnout, and say the lawsuit was filed in an effort to sway local politics.

The county sits in the Four Corners region and covers the northern tip of the Navajo Nation that stretches into Arizona and New Mexico.

Similar legal clashes have been waged in Nevada, Montana and the Dakotas over issues involving the Voting Rights Act and access on reservations. 

Judge Sentences Man to 20 Years For Killing Homeless Men– Associated Press, ABQ Journal

An Albuquerque man convicted of killing two homeless men in 2014 was sentenced to 20 years in prison after a judge ruled he could be sentenced as an adult.

The Albuquerque Journal reported Thursday that 19-year-old Gilbert Tafoya pleaded guilty in 2015 to two counts of second-degree murder for the deaths of Kee Thompson and Allison Gorman.

The judge's order says Tafoya and two others beat the men with various found objects, and they were "laughing and having fun" during the hour-long attack. They then stabbed the men.

Judge Briana Zamora says the attack "was a sustained, relentless torture of two defenseless men who did nothing to provoke the attack."

Nathaniel Carillo and Alex Rios were previously convicted and sentenced for the men's deaths.

'Poor People's Campaign' Set To Launch Near US-Mexico Border – Associated Press

Civil rights leaders and immigrant rights advocates are launching a new national "poor people's campaign" near the U.S.-Mexico border modeled after Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s final crusade.

Rev. William J. Barber, II is scheduled to lead a community march and mass gathering Sunday in El Paso to begin the "Poor People's Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival."

Before King's assassination, he was organizing a new march on Washington in 1968 centered on issues of poverty.

Organizers say the new campaign on the 50th anniversary seeks to draw on the history of those efforts and include immigration.

Barber is known for his role in organizing North Carolina's Moral Mondays and is a leading figure among religious liberals.

New Mexico Unemployment Rate Drops Slightly to 6.2 Percent – Associated Press

New Mexico's unemployment rate is down slightly.

The Department of Workforce Solutions reports that the state's seasonally adjusted unemployment rate was 6.2 percent in September, down from 6.3 percent in August as the state’s economy added 2,000 jobs.

The department's monthly report released today says Bernalillo County had a 5.6 percent unemployment rate in September, while Dona Ana and Santa Fe counties had unemployment rates of 6.5 and 5.3 percent, respectively.

The counties with the highest unemployment rate in September were Luna at 10 percent and McKinley at 9 percent. The counties with the lowest rates were Union at 3.4 percent and Los Alamos at 3.8 percent.

Bipartisan Senate Bill Aims To Prevent Western Wildfires - Matthew Daly, Associated Press

As wildfires rage across California and the West, a bipartisan group of senators is seeking to help rural communities better prepare for and prevent catastrophic wildfires.

A bill sponsored by senators from three Northwestern states would authorize hundreds of millions in new spending to help at-risk communities prevent wildfires and create a pilot program to cut down trees in the most fire-prone areas.

Under a streamlined approval process, forest managers would thin pine forests near populated areas and do controlled burns in remote regions. The bill also calls for detailed reviews of any wildfire that burns over 100,000 acres.

Democratic Sen. Maria Cantwell of Washington state says the bill would "create new tools to reduce fire risk and help better protect our communities." Three Democrats and two Republicans are co-sponsors.

New Mexico Judge Orders Release Of Clergy Sex Abuse Records – Associated Press

The Archdiocese of Santa Fe has released hundreds of pages of court records related to sexual abuse allegations against clergy members in response to an order from a New Mexico judge.

Church officials said in a statement issued after Wednesday's release that they hope the disclosure, along with the recent publication of a list of clergy accused of sexual misconduct, will serve as an additional step in healing for survivors, their families and parishioners.

The documents include letters showing church leaders knew of allegations of sexual abuse that had been leveled against three priests from the 1960s through the 1980s.

Judge Alan Malott's order stems from a request by KOB-TV. The Albuquerque television station argued that much of the information should no longer be guarded by a court-protected confidentiality order.

Trump's Border Wall Models Take Shape In San Diego - Elliot Spagat, Associated Press

The last two of eight prototypes for President Donald Trump's proposed border wall are taking shape at a construction site in San Diego.

The prototypes form a tightly packed row of imposing concrete and metal panels, including one with sharp metal edges on top. Another has a surface resembling an expensive brick driveway.

Companies have until Oct. 26 to finish the models but Border Patrol spokesman Theron Francisco said Thursday the last two came into profile, as crews installed a corrugated metal surface on one model on a dirt lot just a few steps from homes in Tijuana, Mexico.

As the crews worked, three men and two women jumped a short rusted fence from Tijuana into the construction site and were immediately stopped by agents on horseback.

Francisco said there have been four or five other illegal crossing attempts at the site since work began Sept. 26.

The models cost the government up to $500,000 each.

'Breaking Bad' Actors Hosting Fundraiser For Puerto Rico – Associated Press

Two actors from the AMC-TV hit series "Breaking Bad" are hosting a fundraiser for the victims of Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico.

Bob Odenkirk, who played sleazy lawyer Saul Goodman in the series, is sponsoring a benefit event in Albuquerque where the show was filmed. He'll be joined by Steven Michael Quezada, who played a federal drug enforcement agent in the same series.

The October 23rd event will be held at an Albuquerque brewery and is part of a broader effort by actress Anne Heche to raise money for the island.

Hundreds of thousands of people in Puerto Rico are still without running water, and a number of the island's 51 sewage treatment plants remain out of service after Hurricane Maria struck last month.

Odenkirk is currently starring in the "Breaking Bad" prequel, "Better Call Saul."

Farmington, San Juan County To Intervene In PNM CaseAssociated Press, Farmington Daily Times

The city of Farmington and San Juan County have decided to intervene in the Public Service Company of New Mexico's Integrated Resource Plan case.

The Farmington Daily Times reports both the City Council and the County Commission met Tuesday in closed executive session during their meetings to discuss intervening.

The New Mexico Public Regulation Commission is hearing arguments in the case. State legislators who represent San Juan County intervened in the case earlier this year.

The integrated resource plan calls for the Public Service Company of New Mexico to pull out of the San Juan Generating Station at the end of 2022 and be coal free by 2031.

The local governments are concerned about the economic impact the Public Service Company of New Mexico's plan will have on the area.

New Mexico Medical Pot Program Making Changes Associated Press

New Mexico's booming medical marijuana program is undergoing changes.

The Albuquerque Journal reports a state Department of Health official told lawmakers this week the tweaks are intended to alleviate growing pains.

The changes that are either being considered or are already in the works include allowing patients to submit online applications — they're currently required to be submitted by mail — and the hiring of seven new staffers, including an investigator and an environmental scientist.

The new hires would bolster the Medical Cannabis Program's authorized staff positions by 33 percent — from 21 to 28 positions — for the budget year.

New Mexico launched its medical marijuana program in 2007. There were 9,950 active patients around the state in September 2013. There were 48,861 as of last month.