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Justice News

Department of Justice
U.S. Attorney’s Office
District of Colorado

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Shiprock Man Found Guilty of Raping Woman In Towaoc

DURANGO – Merle Denezpi, age 39, of Shiprock, New Mexico, was found guilty on March 1, 2019, of federal sexual assault charges following a week-long trial before U.S. District Court Judge Robert E. Blackburn, U.S. Attorney Jason Dunn announced.  Denezpi appeared at trial in custody and was remanded to the custody of the U.S. Marshals Service at the trial’s conclusion.

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, Denezpi used physical force and death threats to sexually assault his victim. Denezpi fled from the scene by jumping out a second-story window and hid underneath a bush for roughly thirteen hours.  When apprehended by federal agents, Denezpi offered a contradictory story about his relationship with the victim, before finally asserting any sex was consensual.  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. 

Denezpi will be sentenced by Judge Blackburn on June 3, 2019, at 1:30 p.m. in Durango, Colorado.  Denezpi faces up to life in prison. 

“Victims of sexual assault display tremendous courage when they agree to participate in the prosecution of their assailants by confronting them in court, and we commend the victim here for her courage,” said U.S. Attorney Jason Dunn.  Our office is committed to vigorously prosecuting those who prey upon women and hold them accountable.”

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.

Indian Country Law and Justice
Jeff Dorschner Spokesman, Public Affairs Officer U.S. Attorney's Office, District of Colorado 303-454-0243 direct; 303-454-0400 fax
Press Release Number: 
CASE NUMBER: 18-cr-00267
Updated March 5, 2019