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Press Release

Man Sentenced To 30 Years In Federal Prison For Sexual Assault Committed On The Ute Mountain Ute Reservation

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, District of Colorado

DURANGO -- Merle Denezpi, age 39, of Shiprock, New Mexico, was sentenced yesterday by U.S. District Court Judge Robert E. Blackburn to serve 360 months (30 years) in federal prison, followed by 10 years on supervised release, for committing aggravated sexual assault in Towaoc, Colorado, announced U.S. Attorney Jason Dunn.  Denezpi appeared at the sentencing hearing in custody, and was remanded at its conclusion.  A federal jury found Denezpi guilty of the crime following a week-long trial before Judge Blackburn in Durango, Colorado on March 1, 2019. 

Denezpi was indicted by a federal grand jury on June 7, 2018, for one count of Aggravated Sexual Assault within the exterior boundaries of the Ute Mountain Ute Indian Reservation, near Towaoc, Colorado.  According to court documents, as well as facts presented during trial and at sentencing, Denezpi used physical force and death threats to sexually assault the victim.  After the assault, Denezpi threatened the victim’s life if she reported the assault.  Denezpi fled from the scene by jumping out a second-story window when he saw police approaching the residence.  He then hid underneath a bush for roughly thirteen hours.  Denezpi admitted under oath at trial and at sentencing that he lied to federal agents when apprehended.  A Sexual Assault Nurse Exam (“SANE”) was conducted showing significant bruising and injuries to the victim.  In addition, a DNA test conducted by the Federal Bureau of Investigations revealed Denezpi’s DNA was present on the victim. 

“Our office is committed to vigorously prosecuting crimes committed on the Ute Mountain Ute Indian Reservation,” said U.S. Attorney Jason Dunn.  “Mr. Denezpi wrongly believed that he could commit a violent assault, silence the victim with threats, and lie his way out of accountability.  Thanks to the work of our prosecutors and law enforcement partners, he was proven wrong.”

This case was investigated by Bureau of Indian Affairs, with the assistance of their Victim Witness Specialist.  The defendant was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Jeff Graves and Tim Neff.


Jeff Dorschner
Spokesman, Public Affairs Officer
U.S. Attorney's Office, District of Colorado
303-454-0243 direct; 303-454-0400 fax

Updated June 4, 2019

Indian Country Law and Justice
Press Release Number: CASE NUMBER: 18-cr-00267