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Justice News

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

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Navajo Man from Fruitland, N.M., Sentenced to Nearly 20 Years in Prison for Conviction on Federal Rape Charge

Defendant, a Previously Convicted Sex Offender, Prosecuted as Part of Federal Initiative to Address Epidemic Incidence of Violence Against Native Women

ALBUQUERQUE – U.S. Attorney John C. Anderson, Special Agent in Charge James C. Langenberg  of the FBI’s Albuquerque Division, and Director Jesse Delmar of the Navajo Nation Department of Public Safety (NNDPS) announced that Melvin Russell, a previously convicted sex offender, was sentenced today in federal court in Albuquerque, N.M., to 235 months in prison for his conviction on an aggravated sexual abuse charge.  Russell will be on supervised release for ten years after completing his prison sentence.  He will also be required to register as a sex offender. 

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 on May 11, 2018, 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 Russell, the victim and the victim’s friend 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.

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 prosecuted 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
Violent Crime
Updated October 25, 2018