Navajo man pleads guilty to federal manslaughter charge
Earlier today, Lolando Nez, 33, of Vanderwagen, New Mexico, entered a guilty plea to a federal voluntary manslaughter charge before United States Magistrate Judge Alan C. Torgerson under a plea agreement with the United States Attorney’s Office. Specifically, Nez, an enrolled member of the Navajo Nation, pled guilty to a one-count criminal information charging him with killing Ethan Wemytewa, an enrolled member of the Pueblo of Zuni, while in a sudden quarrel or heat of passion on the Navajo Reservation on May 2, 2010. Nez has been in federal custody since his arrest on August 5, 2010 and now faces a maximum fifteen-year term of imprisonment at sentencing, which has yet to be scheduled.
United States Attorney Kenneth J. Gonzales said that the charges against Nez arose from a physical altercation between the two men. According to the criminal complaint filed in the case, on May 1, 2010, officers of the Navajo Nation Department of Public Safety responded to a call regarding an assault and found a pickup truck with dark colored spatter and stains that appeared to be dried blood on the seat and dashboard that was immobilized in a roadside ditch. Investigation revealed that Nez had been involved in an altercation with the driver, Mr. Wemytewa, who had been transported to the Gallup Indian Medical Center for emergency medical treatment. On May 2, 2010, Mr. Wemytewa died as a result of blunt force trauma to the head. The complaint alleges that a witness heard Nez acknowledge knocking Wemytewa unconscious during a fight on May 1, 2010 and saw Nez drive Mr. Wemytewa's truck down the road to the area of the ditch. When Special Agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation took Nez into custody later that day, Nez had numerous injuries consistent with having been involved in a physical altercation.
In his plea agreement, Nez admitted that, on May 1, 2010, Mr. Wemytewa, a person who was unknown to him, offered Nez from Gallup to his home in Vanderwagen. After arriving in Vanderwagen, the two men began drinking alcohol and became very intoxicated. Nez admitted that the two men began to argue and the argument escalated into a physical fight. During the fight, Nez hit Mr. Wemytewa in the head causing him to fall and strike his head on a piece of wood. Nez acknowledged that the head injury was the cause of Mr. Wemytewa’s death.
The case was investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Navajo Nation Department of Public Safety and is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Jack E. Burkhead.