Gallup Man Pleads Guilty to Federal Second Degree Murder Charge
ALBUQUERQUE – Thomas Benally 53, an enrolled member of the Navajo Nation who resides in Gallup, N.M., pleaded guilty this morning to a second degree murder charge under a plea agreement with the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
Benally and his co-defendant, Luke Spencer, 48, a Navajo man who also resides in Gallup, N.M., were indicted in March 2012. Count 1 of the indictment charged Benally with second degree murder and Count 2 charged 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, Beanlly entered a guilty plea to second degree murder and admitted that on the night of Oct. 1, 2010 or early hours of Oct. 2, 2010, he drove Spencer’s truck despite being severely intoxicated. While backing up, Benally ran over a 71-year-old Navajo man. Benally further admitted that he and Spencer, who was in the passenger’s seat, 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 of injuries he sustained and his remains were found by a passerby on Oct. 7, 2010.
Under the terms of the plea agreement, Benally will be sentenced to a prison term within the range of 10 to 12 years followed by a term of supervised release to be determined by the court. Benally has been in federal custody since his arrest on March 13, 2012 and remains detained pending his sentencing hearing, which has yet to be scheduled.
On May 28, 2013, Spencer entered a guilty plea to a felony information charging him with involuntary manslaughter for permitting Benally to drive his truck while intoxicated. At sentencing, Spencer faces a maximum penalty of eight years in prison. Spencer remains in the custody of the U.S. Marshals Service pending his sentencing hearing which has not yet been scheduled.
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.