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Press Release

Third Defendant Pleads Guilty to Second Degree Murder Charge in Case Arising from Kidnapping and Murder of Navajo Woman

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

Justin Benally to Serve 22-Year Prison Sentence for Aiding and Abetting Murder

ALBUQUERQUE – Justin Benally, 26, of Farmington, N.M., pled guilty today to a second degree murder charge arising out of the kidnapping and brutal murder of a 28-year old Navajo woman.  Two co-defendants, Mariah Benally, 22, and LaSheena Jacquez, 27, both of Kirtland, N.M., entered similar guilty pleas last month.

Justin Benally, Mariah Benally and Jacquez are three of five individuals, all of whom are enrolled members of the Navajo Nation, who were indicted in Jan. 2014, on criminal charges arising from the kidnapping and murder of the victim on Oct. 23, 2013.  The five defendants previously had been arrested in Dec. 2013, on a criminal complaint that was filed after law enforcement authorities received information that the victim, who had been reported as missing in Nov. 2013, had been murdered.  The victim’s remains were recovered on Dec. 9, 2013.

In addition to charging Justin Benally, Mariah Benally and Jacquez, the four-count indictment also charged Patrick Benally, 26, of Kirtland, and Scott Thompson, 28, of Farmington, with first degree murder, kidnapping, and conspiracy to kidnap.  It also charged Justin Benally, Mariah Benally, Jacquez and Thompson with harboring Patrick Benally to prevent his arrest on a warrant for an unrelated crime.  The indictment alleges that the crimes charged occurred on the Navajo Indian Reservation within San Juan County, N.M.

This morning, Justin Benally pled guilty to a felony information charging him with second degree murder.   In entering his guilty plea, Justin Benally admitted aiding and abetting the victim’s murder by participating in her kidnapping and taking actions that ultimately resulted in the victim’s death.  Under the terms of his plea agreement, Justin Benally will be sentenced to a 22-year term of imprisonment.  He remains in custody pending his sentencing hearing, which has yet to be scheduled.

On Oct. 29, 2014, Mariah Benally also pled guilty to a second degree murder charge.  Mariah Benally admitted causing the victim’s death by throwing rocks at her, and aiding and abetting others who also caused the victim’s death.  She also admitted throwing rocks at the victim after the victim had been repeatedly stabbed by three of her co-defendants and thrown off a cliff by one of the co-defendants.  Mariah Benally also aided her co-defendants in restraining the victim and transporting her to the murder site, and destroying evidence of their crimes.   

Jacquez pled guilty to a second degree murder charge on Oct. 16, 2014, and admitted causing the victim’s death on Oct. 23, 2013, by repeatedly stabbing the victim with a knife, throwing rocks at the victim, and aiding and abetting others who also caused the victim’s death. Jacquez also admitted that she destroyed evidence and aided and abetted others in the destruction of evidence in an effort to evade prosecution.

Mariah Benally and Jacquez have been in federal custody since they were arrested and remain detained pending their sentencing hearings, which have yet to be scheduled.  Each faces a maximum statutory penalty of life imprisonment.

The two remaining co-defendants have entered not guilty pleas to the indictment and are detained pending trial, which has not yet been scheduled.  If convicted of the charges in the indictment, each faces a maximum statutory penalty of life imprisonment.  Charges in indictments are merely accusations and defendants are presumed innocent unless convicted in a court of law.

 This case was investigated by the Farmington office of the FBI, the Farmington Police Department and the San Juan County Sheriff’s Office.  Assistant U.S. Attorneys Niki Tapia-Brito and David Adams are prosecuting the case.

Updated January 26, 2015