Six enrolled members of the Navajo Nation were arrested last week on suspicion of stabbing a woman repeatedly, slicing her throat and leaving her to die near the Bisti Highway in October, according to the FBI.
A criminal complaint unsealed Dec. 13 charges Patrick Benally, 26, Justin Benally, 26, Lasheena Jacquez, 27, Mariah Benally, 21, Joni Eaglefeather, 24, and Scott Thompson, 27, with murder, kidnapping and aiding and abetting in connection to the slaying of a woman.
Prosecutors dismissed all charges against Joni Eaglefeather on Dec. 16, saying in a motion it was in the interest of justice, according to court documents.
The victim is identified in court documents as Jane Doe 1. The documents state the victim was the subject of a Farmington police missing person investigation prior to her death.
Farmington police Detective Lt. Darin Hardy said Gabrielle Joe, 28, was the subject of a Farmington police missing person investigation in November.
A death notice sent to The Daily Times by Desert View Funeral Home of Shiprock states Joe died Dec. 10, and her funeral is Dec. 24. With a missing person case, the date of death printed in a death notice is often the date that a person was pronounced dead by a medical examiner or other official.
Hardy said the FBI has not informed police that the agency has positively identified the victim in the homicide case. Farmington’s investigation into Joe’s disappearance is pending.
An FBI spokesman did not identify the victim. A spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of New Mexico stated that under the Department of Justice’s policy, the office cannot identify a victim.
The FBI recovered the woman’s body Dec. 10 after a woman identified in court documents as Jane Doe 2 told police about the crime.
On Oct. 23, the defendants, the deceased and the witness were at a Farmington house where they smoked and injected methamphetamine, FBI Special Agent Vanessa Bassett wrote in an affidavit. Patrick Benally, who was wanted by the FBI at the time in connection to a shooting in Fruitland, was acting paranoid, Bassett wrote in the affidavit.
Justin Benally told the group they shouldn’t let the victim leave because she would contact a rival drug dealer known as “T-Bone,” according to the affidavit.
The affidavit states that Patrick Benally and Thompson then tied the woman up with sheets and duct tape, and Patrick Benally carried the woman to a vehicle. The group drove out County Road 7100 southwest of Farmington city limits onto Navajo Nation land, according to the court document.
The FBI’s witness said Justin Benally stripped the woman’s clothes off while she begged for her life and said she had children, according to the affidavit.
The witness told the FBI the woman was crouched over on the ground covering herself when Jacquez took a large knife from Patrick Benally and stabbed the woman in the back and the head until the knife bent, according to the affidavit.
Justin Benally then allegedly took the knife, pulled the woman’s head back by the hair and sliced her throat, according to the affidavit.
After that, the group then tossed the woman off a ledge and started to throw rocks on her, according to the affidavit.
The witness said the victim “was still making sounds similar to those like a sheep when it is slaughtered as the rocks fell on her,” Bassett wrote in the report.
An autopsy showed the woman was stabbed 16 times, according to the affidavit.
The victim’s mother reported her missing on Nov. 19 and said she hadn’t seen her daughter since Oct. 15, according to the FBI.
Farmington police investigated her disappearance until Jane Doe 2 contacted a police detective about the stabbing, and police turned the investigation over the FBI, according to the affidavit.
A Farmington police news release on Dec. 2 said Joe was last seen in mid-October.
Several of the people accused in the fatal stabbing were allegedly involved in other recent violent crimes in the area.
San Juan County Sheriff Ken Christesen said repeat offenders and people with methamphetamine addictions awaiting felony trials are a concern for law enforcement. And he said the FBI murder case and Farmington police’s case against Mark Hinojos, an alleged methamphetamine dealer who was charged with second-degree murder this week in an unrelated case, highlight that problem.
“They were able to skirt justice,” he said. “It’s tragic it got to the point where (the homicide suspects) could actually take someone’s life.”
Thompson and Jacquez, along with Ashlyn Benally, 19, were arrested Nov. 1 on suspicion of assaulting and robbing a 65-year-old woman on her way home from buying groceries.
Ashlyn Benally’s charges were dismissed Nov. 5, according to court documents.
Thompson was convicted for kidnapping and sexual assault at trial in May 2008. He also has three prior misdemeanor battery convictions.
Patrick Benally has been in custody since his arrest in early November on suspicion of shooting a Fruitland woman in the face in October, about two week’s before he was involved in the alleged homicide.
He has waived his detention hearing in that case, according to a federal court website.
Patrick Benally was convicted of a misdemeanor assault on a peace officer in magistrate court in April.
Christesen said there appeared to be common theme among the defendants.
“They were all caught with meth,” he said. “One of our rights is to be able to post a bond … but we’re not doing them any favors by (letting them out on bond) because they are going to keep committing felonies because they are addicts.”