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Justice News

Department of Justice
U.S. Attorney’s Office
District of New Mexico

Friday, May 11, 2018

Federal Jury Convicts Navajo Man on Rape Charge

Defendant, a Previously Convicted Sex Offender, Faces Maximum Sentence of Life Imprisonment; Case Prosecuted as Part of Federal Initiative to Address Epidemic Incidence of Violence Against Native Women and Project Safe Childhood

ALBUQUERQUE – A federal jury sitting in Albuquerque, N.M., returned a verdict late yesterday afternoon finding Melvin Russell guilty on an aggravated sexual abuse charge following a four-day trial.  Russell, a previously convicted sex offender, faces a statutory maximum penalty of life imprisonment when he is sentenced on the conviction.  U.S. Attorney John C. Anderson, Special Agent in Charge Terry Wade of the FBI’s Albuquerque Division, and Director Jesse Delmar of the Navajo Nation Department of Public Safety (NNDPS) announced the jury’s guilty verdict.

The FBI and NNDPS arrested Russell, 53, an enrolled member of the Navajo Nation who resides in Fruitland, N.M., in July 2014, on a criminal complaint charging him with sexually abusing a Navajo woman on May 20, 2014, on the Navajo Nation in San Juan County, N.M.  Russell subsequently was indicted on July 24, 2014, and was charged with aggravated sexual abuse.

Trial on the indictment commenced on May 7, 2018, and concluded yesterday afternoon when the jury returned a guilty verdict against Russell on the sole count of the indictment.

Testimony at trial established that late in the evening on May 19, 2014, until the early morning of May 20, 2014, Russell forced the victim to engage in sexual intercourse with him by threatening her with a large samurai sword.  The victim, a friend, and the friend’s child were at Russell’s residence on the evening of May 19, 2014, where they all consumed alcohol. 

The victim testified that, after the friend and the child went to sleep, Russell became sexually aggressive towards her, while grabbing her around the neck, choking her.  The victim testified that Russell then pulled out a large samurai-type sword and threatened to kill her if she did not submit to him.  The victim testified that Russell sexually abused her while continuing to strike and choke her.  On the morning of May 20, 2014, the victim, the friend, and the child left Russell’s residence, contacted police, and sought medical care for the victim for injuries and trauma caused by the sexual assault.

The jury deliberated approximately two hours before returning a guilty verdict.

At sentencing, Russell faces a maximum penalty of life in federal prison, a $250,000 fine, and will be required to register as a sex offender.  Russell remains in custody pending a sentencing hearing, which has yet to be scheduled.

This case was investigated by the Farmington office of the FBI and the Shiprock office of the NNDPS.  Assistant U.S. Attorney’s Joseph M. Spindle and Elisa Dimas are prosecuting this case as part of the Tribal Special Assistant U.S. Attorney (Tribal SAUSA) Pilot Project in the District of New Mexico, which is sponsored by the Justice Department’s Office on Violence Against Women under a grant administered by the Pueblo of Laguna.  The Tribal SAUSA Pilot Project seeks to train tribal prosecutors in federal law, procedure and investigative techniques to increase the likelihood that every viable violent offense against Native American women is prosecuted in either federal court or tribal court, or both.  The Tribal SAUSA Pilot Project was largely driven by input gathered from annual tribal consultations on violence against women, and is another step in the Justice Department's on-going efforts to increase engagement, coordination and action on public safety in tribal communities.

Indian Country Law and Justice
Project Safe Childhood
Violent Crime
Updated May 11, 2018