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Press Release

Gallup Man Pleads Guilty to Federal Involuntary Manslaughter Charge

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

ALBUQUERQUE – Luke Spencer, 48, an enrolled member of the Navajo Nation who resides in Gallup, N.M., pleaded guilty this morning to an involuntary manslaughter charge under a plea agreement with the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

Spencer and his cousin and co-defendant, Thomas Benally, 53, a Navajo man who also resides in Gallup, N.M., were indicted on March 1, 2012.  The indictment charged Benally with second degree murder and Spencer with aiding and abetting second degree murder.  According to the indictment, Benally, who was aided by Spencer, killed a man while driving under the influence of alcohol on the Navajo Indian Reservation between Oct. 1, 2010 and Oct. 2, 2010.      

During this morning’s hearing, Spencer entered a guilty plea to a felony information charging him with involuntary manslaughter.  In his plea agreement, Spencer admitted that, on the evening of Oct. 2, 2010, he permitted Benally to drive his truck even though he knew that Benally was intoxicated.  While driving the truck with Spencer’s permission and with Spencer as a passenger, Benally ran over their uncle, a 71-year-old Navajo man.  Spencer acknowledged that Benally and he drove away in the truck without making any effort to check on the victim’s condition or calling the authorities to report the accident.  The victim died and his remains were found by a passerby on Oct. 7, 2010.  Today, Spencer admitted that he contributed to the victim’s death by giving the keys to his truck to Benally and permitting him to drive while intoxicated. 

At sentencing, Spencer faces a maximum penalty of eight years in prison.  Under the terms of the plea agreement, the second degree murder charge against Spencer will be dismissed after he is sentenced.

Benally has been in federal custody since his arrest on March 13, 2012.  He has entered a not guilty plea to the second degree murder charge against him, which is merely an accusation.  Benally is presumed innocent unless found guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

This case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Jennifer M. Rozzoni and Jack E. Burkhead based on an investigation by the Gallup office of the FBI and the Crownpoint office of the Navajo Nation Division of Public Safety.

Updated January 26, 2015