Navajo Man from McKinley County Pleads Guilty to Federal Sexual Abuse Charges
Defendant Prosecuted as Part of Federal Initiative to Address Epidemic Incidence of Violence Against Native Women Under Plea Agreement Recommending a Prison Sentence within Range of 17 to 20 Years
ALBUQUERQUE – Wesley Lawless, 41, an enrolled member of the Navajo Nation who resides in Tohatchi, N.M., pled guilty yesterday in federal court to sexual abuse charges. Lawless’ plea agreement recommends that he be sentenced to a term of imprisonment within the range of 17 to 20 years followed by a term of supervised release to be determined by the court. Lawless will also be required to register as a sex offender.
Lawless and his co-defendants, John B. Henry, 50, an enrolled member of the Navajo Nation who resides in Albuquerque, and Robert Henry Jr., 52, an enrolled member of the Navajo Nation who resides in Mexican Springs, N.M., were charged in a 12-count indictment filed on June 15, 2016. The co-defendants were charged with two counts of kidnapping, two counts of conspiracy to commit a kidnapping, seven counts of aggravated sexual abuse, and one count of child abuse. According to the indictment, the defendants committed the offenses on June 18 and 19, 2011, on the Navajo Indian Reservation in McKinley County, N.M.
During yesterday’s proceedings, Lawless pled guilty to a two-count felony information charging him with aggravated sexual abuse and attempted aggravated sexual abuse.
According to Lawless’ plea agreement, on June 18, 2011, Lawless, two other men, and two female victims was driving around the Navajo Indian Reservation while drinking alcohol. At some point that evening, the female victims wanted to return to town but Lawless did not allow it. During a vehicle stop, Lawless sexually abused one victim and during another stop, he attempted unsuccessfully to sexually abuse the other victim.
Lawless remains in custody pending a sentencing hearing, which has yet to be scheduled.
Co-defendants John B. Henry and Robert Henry have entered pleas of not guilty to the charges against them. Charges in indictments are merely accusations and defendants are presumed innocent unless found guilty in a court of law.
This case was investigated by the Gallup office of the FBI and the Crownpoint office of the Navajo Nation Division of Public Safety. Assistant U.S. Attorney Jennifer M. Rozzoni is prosecuting the 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.