Greasewood man sentenced to 59 years

July 31, 2014

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PHOENIX -- On July 22, Branden Pete, 28, of Greasewood, Ariz., was sentenced by Senior U.S. District Judge Stephen M. McNamee to 708 months (59 years) in prison, according to the U.S. attorney's office.

Pete was found guilty by a federal jury on Oct. 31, 2005, of murder in the second degree; murder during the commission of the crime of kidnaping; murder during the commission of the crime of aggravated sexual abuse; and conspiracy to commit first degree murder.

The evidence at trial showed that on May 18, 2002, Branden Pete, Irvin Cepi, Harris James and Hoskie James, all members of the Navajo Nation, picked up the victim on the Navajo Reservation and drove her to a remote location where she was forcibly raped by the 16-year-olds.

The victim was then driven to another remote location where she sustained fatal injuries to her head at the hands of both Cepi and Pete.

Her body was not discovered until Aug. 26, 2002. An anonymous tip led authorities to these four who all confessed their involvement.

The defendant was originally sentenced to mandatory life imprisonment on April 17, 2006. However, in 2012 the U.S. Supreme Court in Miller v. Alabama, decided that juveniles should not face mandatory life sentences and that the courts should consider the infirmities of youth in determining their level of culpability.

The defendant presented evidence of a dysfunctional upbringing and significant substance abuse issues. The court took these into account but was shocked by the actions of the defendant in taking the life of another in such a brutal fashion.

The court also noted that Pete had accumulated a significant number of disciplinary problems while serving his sentence in the Bureau of Prisons. Ultimately, the judge decided against re-imposing a sentence of life imprisonment but rather selected the 708-month sentence stating that he did so both to punish the defendant for the crimes he committed and to protect the community. The defendant will receive credit for the nearly 12 years he has already served in prison.

Fruitland man sentenced in death of 2-year-old

ALBUQUERQUE -- Jason Yazzie, 31, who resides in Fruitland, N.M., was sentenced Monday in federal district court here to 270 months -- 22.5 years -- in federal prison for his voluntary manslaughter and assault conviction, according to the U.S. attorney's office.

Yazzie will be on supervised release for three years after completing his prison sentence.

Yazzie was arrested on Aug. 6, 2013, based on a criminal complaint alleging that he killed a two-year-old Navajo child on Aug. 2, 2013, on the Navajo Reservation. On April 28, 2014, Yazzie entered a guilty plea to felony information charging him with voluntary manslaughter and assault resulting in serious bodily injury charges.

In his plea agreement, Yazzie admitted that on Aug. 2, 2013, he became extremely frustrated with the child, who had been left in his care, and repeatedly struck the child about the torso, causing the child to sustain severe chest and abdominal injuries.

Yazzie also admitted that he threw the child approximately five feet in the air and across the room, causing the child to sustain severe head and neck trauma. Yazzie admitted that he acted in frustration and in the heat of passion and that his actions caused the child's death.

Shiprock man pleads guilty to sex charge

ALBUQUERQUE -- Gerald A. Tso, 25, from Shiprock, pleaded guilty last Thursday in federal district court to an aggravated sexual assault charge, according to the U.S. attorney's office.

Under the terms of his plea agreement, Tso will be sentenced to 10 years in federal prison followed by a term of supervised release to be determined by the court. Tso will be required to register as a sex offender after he completes his prison sentence.

Tso was arrested on Feb. 26 on a criminal complaint charging him with aggravated sexual abuse of a child, and subsequently was indicted on that same charge on March 26, 2014.

According to court filings, Tso sexually assaulted a seven-year-old Navajo child on Feb. 26 in Shiprock.

Tso pleaded guilty to felony information charging him with aggravated sexual abuse. In entering his guilty plea, Tso admitted engaging in a sexual act with the child. Tso further admitted that the child was under the age of 12 years at the time he victimized the child.

Tso has been in federal custody since his arrest and remains detained pending his sentencing hearing, which has yet to be scheduled.

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