ALBUQUERQUE – Gavin Yepa, 31, a member and resident of Jemez Pueblo, N.M., was sentenced today in federal court in Albuquerque, N.M., to life imprisonment on his felony murder conviction. The sentence was announced by U.S. Attorney Damon P. Martinez and Special Agent in Charge Terry Wade of the FBI’s Albuquerque Division.
Yepa was arrested on Jan. 3, 2012, on a criminal complaint charging him with killing a 38-year-old Navajo woman during a sexual assault that took place at Yepa=s residence on Jemez Pueblo on the night of December 28, 2011. Yepa previously had been arrested on related tribal charges on Dec. 28, 2011, and remained in tribal custody until his arrest on the federal criminal complaint.
In Jan. 2012, a federal grand jury indicted Yepa on a felony murder charge alleging that the victim died as the result of an aggravated sexual assault by Yepa.
Trial of the case was delayed by interlocutory appeals. The trial commenced on July 27, 2015, and concluded Aug. 7, 2015, when the jury returned a guilty verdict on the sole count of the indictment.
The evidence at trial established that Yepa met the victim in San Ysidro, N.M., on the evening of Dec. 28, 2011, and took her to his residence. Shortly before midnight, Yepa contacted tribal officials and reported that there was a woman in his home who was not breathing. When Yepa escorted the officials into his residence, they observed a large amount of blood on the floor throughout the house and found the victim’s nude body, which was covered with blood, in a bedroom.
The investigation revealed that the victim had been brutally sexually assaulted with three items, all of which were found at the crime scene. DNA analysis confirmed that the victim’s blood was on all three items.
“Native American women experience violence, including domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, stalking and murder, at rates dramatically higher than other women in this country. This is a cycle of violence that cannot be tolerated and must end,” U.S. Attorney Damon P. Martinez said. “The U.S. Attorney’s Office is committed to improving the safety of women in our tribal communities by working with tribal governments to decrease the number of Native American women who fall victim to violence; to strengthen the capacity of tribal governments to respond to violent crimes and support victims; and to ensure that perpetrators like Gavin Yepa are held accountable for their crimes and are removed from the community.”
“No one in this country deserves to be a victim of violence. Unfortunately, violence in our Native American communities ravages families, harming mothers, daughters and sisters. They and their loved ones depend on us for justice. Today’s sentencing sends a strong message the FBI and our partners will vigorously pursue justice for each and every victim, especially those who suffer unspeakable crimes and can no longer speak for themselves,” said FBI Special Agent in Charge Terry Wade. “The FBI appreciates the U.S. Attorney’s Office’s aggressive prosecution in this case, and we thank Jemez Pueblo and the New Mexico State Police for their assistance.”
This case was investigated by the Albuquerque office of the FBI with assistance from the Jemez Pueblo Tribal Officials, the Jemez Pueblo Tribal Police Department and the Crime Scene Unit of the New Mexico State Police. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Niki Tapia-Brito and Linda Mott prosecuted the case.
The prosecution of this case was 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 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.