News and Press Releases

Navajo man receives life sentence for murder of common-Law wife

January 11, 2011

This morning, United States District Judge William P. Johnson sentenced Nathan Don Jack, 26, an enrolled member of the Navajo Nation and resident of Hogback, New Mexico, to life imprisonment based on his second degree murder conviction. Jack was convicted of murdering Jessica Shorty, his common-law wife and the mother of his three children, on September 15, 2010 by a federal jury. Ms. Shorty also was an enrolled member of the Navajo Nation.

Jack was arrested on August 9, 2009 on federal murder charges after he brought Ms. Shorty to the emergency room of the Northern Navajo Medical Center (NNMC) and has remained in custody since his arrest. According to trial testimony, Ms. Shorty, who was severely beaten about the head, face and body and unable to breathe on her own, was pronounced dead on arrival at the NNMC. Witnesses testified that, after Jack and Ms. Shorty had an argument outside their residence in the early morning hours of August 9, 2009, Ms. Shorty entered the residence and went to sleep with their eighteen-month child and two other children. Shortly thereafter, Jack entered the residence, grabbed Ms. Shorty by her feet while she was breast-feeding their eighteen-month child, and dragged her outside of the residence. A witness who was inside the residence testified that she heard Ms. Shorty screaming for help. After things got quiet, the witness went outside and saw Ms. Shorty on the ground with Jack blowing air into her mouth. At Jack’s request, the witness drove Jack and Ms. Shorty to the NNMC where she was pronounced dead on arrival.

A pathologist with the New Mexico Office of the Medical Investigator (OMI) testified that Ms. Shorty’s death was caused by asphyxia resulting from compacted dirt in Ms. Shorty’s mouth and trachea. According to the pathologist, the dirt in Ms. Shortly’s mouth was the “size of a golfball,” and the dirt in her mouth combined with the dirt in her trachea had the volume of a baseball. He further testified that severe, blunt trauma to her head contributed to Ms. Shorty’s death.

During today’s sentencing hearing, several members of Ms. Shorty’s family asked Judge Johnson to impose the maximum sentence and expressed great sorrow for their loss. Assistant United States Attorney Rumaldo R. Armijo also requested the imposition of a life sentence based on the brutality of the murder, while Jack’s attorney requested a lesser sentence based on the argument that the crime at issue was essentially voluntary manslaughter. In rejecting the defense argument and handing down a life sentence, Judge Johnson noted that the jury found that Jack murdered Ms. Shorty with malice aforethought, deliberately and intentionally, and with callous and wanton disregard for human life.

After Judge Johnson sentenced Jack, United States Attorney Kenneth J. Gonzales stated:

“The sentence imposed today appropriately punishes Nathan Don Jack for the unbelievable brutal murder of Jessica Shorty. Ms. Shorty was killed as a result of the type of domestic violence we see far too often in our Native communities. Experience shows that domestic violence, if not addressed early, escalates and too often culminates in women suffering serious injuries and sometimes, as with Ms. Shorty, in death. I am committed to a long-term sustained effort to reduce violence in our Native American communities, particularly violence against women and children. I commend the efforts of the prosecutors and investigators responsible for making sure that Ms. Shorty’s death did not go unanswered.”

Assistant U.S. Attorneys Rumaldo R. Armijo and Louis E. Valencia prosecuted the case, which was investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Navajo Nation Department of Public Safety, Shiprock Division.

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